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Mexican Painting in Our Time 


orozco. Hidalgo y Costilla, fresco, center wall of staircase, government palace, guadalajara 


Mexican Painting 

in Our Time 



All rights reserved. The reprinting of this book in whole or in part 
ivithout the permission of the publishers in writing is forbidden. 

Printed in Germany at J.J.Augustin, Gliickstadt 




Modern Mexican painting, like that of any other culture, springs from 
a combination of individual and environmental circumstances. In 
Mexico, however, the development of art since the Revolution of 1910 
has been overwhelmingly affected by the political and social milieu, 
which provides a general background for most of the painters, however 
powerful their individual personalities. With very few exceptions, they 
are Revolutionary painters. 

Periodic changes since 1910 have cut across the personal development 
of masters such as Orozco, Siqueiros, and Rivera, in spite of their 
obviously separate styles. Thus in the years 1920-24, immediately after 
the end of the Revolution, Mexican painting is quite different in character 
and accomplishments than during the subsequent increasingly reaction- 
ary era dominated by President Calles. With the advent of Cardenas as 
president in 1934, there comes an upsurge of reforming enthusiasm and 
public sponsorship of art, interrupted by World War II. After a war 
period of internationalism, postwar Mexican art expresses a renewed 
national consciousness. 

Although the leading Mexican painters seemed to go their respective 
ways after the dissolution in 1925 of their early association, the Syndicate, 
other organizations arose sporadically to keep artists together, while 
federal and state patronage of art continues as a basic influential factor 
down to the present day. Through such groups as the League of Revo- 
lutionary Writers and Artists (L.E.A.R.) or the new Frente Nacional de 
Artes Plasticas, the traditions of the early Syndicate days have been per- 
petuated. In the same way, official sponsorship of art extends beyond the 
initial period of 1922-4 to the federal school mural commissions and 
state projects (e.g. Orozco's in Guadalajara) of the 'thirties and the 
national projects of the 'forties and 'fifties. While in the United States 
federal aid to art falls by the wayside, in Mexico it becomes established 
practice for schools, hospitals, and other types of public buildings to re- 
ceive mural and in some cases sculptural treatment. The architecture 
itself advances along lines of modern design, abandoning the conventional 
form of government buildings. 

Mexican painting, however, because of the circumstances surrounding- 
its origin and its almost constant didactic function, has been mainly 

representational in character rather than abstract. This art was influ- 
ential in the United States during the social-conscious 'thirties, but the 
figurative expressionism of Orozco, the dynamic realism of Siqueiros, and 
the decorative narratives of Rivera now have little appeal for advanced 
artists in other countries. This rejection by itself hardly invalidates the 
contribution of modern Mexican art, which expresses the needs of its 
particular culture with undeniable directness. Moreover, the body of 
material turned out by such painters as Orozco and Siqueiros presents a 
quality of accomplishment that many contemporary nations would find 
difficult to match. Further, in its development of new painting techniques 
and procedures, the Mexican school is bringing art up to date in a new 
way, utilizing the products of technological progress. 

Second only in importance to its mural painters are Mexico's graphic 
artists, stemming from the native tradition of the nineteenth century. 
Although they have evolved their own forms and techniques, they show 
a close relationship to the mural tradition (especially to Orozco). Either 
as individuals or as members of print groups, particularly the Workshop 
of Popular Graphic Art, they offer a continuous series of works from the 
early part of the century to the present day. 

Easel painting in Mexico has had a less fortunate history than either 
mural or graphic work. Overwhelmed by the fame of the muralists (who 
received government help because of the 'useful' nature of their art), 
discouraged by the lack until quite recently of private middle-class 
patronage, easel painting remained a pale reflection of mural and graphic 
art or an isolated Magic-Realist or Surrealist phenomenon. Rapid in- 
dustrialization during and after World War II has created middle-class 
patrons and collectors as well as new art dealers to perform the middle- 
man function. Easel painting in this period has entered a more promising 
phase, and is emerging from the subordinate position it held for so long. 
This becomes increasingly clear not only through the sensuous ab- 
stractions of Tamayo and the dynamic pyroxilin paintings of Siqueiros 
but also through the work of a number of younger men. It is in their 
work that the hope for future Mexican painting may lie. 

New York B. S. M. 



The author wishes to express his gratitude to the many friends and 
acquaintances, both in Mexico and in the United States, who have given 
him help, advice, and encouragement. 

. In Mexico City, Sra. Ines Amor of the Galena de Arte Mexicano; the 
distinguished collector Sr. Dr. Alvar Carrillo Gil; Professor Justino Fer- 
nandez; and Sr. Fernando Gamboa, former Chief of the Departamento 
de Artes Plasticas made available the resources of their particular insti- 
tutions and their own profound knowledge of the Mexican scene. Among 
artists who have given generously of their time, advice, and photographic 
help, special thanks go to Sr. y Sra. David Alfaro Siqueiros, Sr. Jose 
Chavez Morado, Sr. y Sra. Jorge Gonzalez Camarena, Sr. y Sra. Ricardo 
Martinez, Sr. Leopoldo Mendez, Sr. y Sra. Juan O'Gorman, Sr. Manuel 
Rodriguez Lozano, Sr. Rufino Tamayo — and particularly to Sr. y Sra. 
Jose L. Gutierrez for their kind aid in a variety of ways. 

For special photographic assistance the author wishes to thank Sr. 
Francisco Caracalla of the Galeria de Arte Moderno, Sr. Alberto Mis- 
rachi, Jr., of the Central de Publicaciones, Sr. Daniel Nunez Rochet of 
the United States Information Service, Srta. Gabriela Orozco Marin of 
the Galeria Artes Plasticas, Sr. Walter Reuter, Sr. Victor M. Reyes, 
Chief of the Departamento de Artes Plasticas, Mr. John Roberts (now of 
San Francisco), Sr. Jose Yerde of the Departamento de Artes Plasticas, 
and Sr. Guillermo Zamora. 

In this country Mr. Henry Clifford of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 
Dr. MacKinley Helm of Santa Barbara, California, Professor Loren 
Mozley of the University of Texas Department of Art, and many friends 
in the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum in New 
York have all been very helpful. 

The greatest thanks are to the author's wife, who has lived through 
this Mexican experience with him from the beginning and with whose 
constant encouragement and direct help this book was brought into 
being. Her feeling for Mexico and its people, her knowledge of the back- 
ground, have been as valuable for this study as her many months of 
devoted editing of the manuscript and her aid in preparing it for the 

Table of Contents 

Foreword vh 

Acknowledgments ix 



III. THE OBREGON PERIOD: 1920 to 1924 21 

IV. DIEGO RIVERA: Through 1924 33 
V.JOSE CLEMENTE OROZCO: Through 1924 42 


VII. THE CALLES PERIOD: 1924 to 1934 56 

VIII. RIVERA: 1924 to 1934 61 

IX. OROZCO: 1924 to 1934 89 

X. SIQJJEIROS: 1924 to 1934 115 


NIL THE CARDE.XAS PERIOD: 1934 to 1940 133 

XIII. OROZCO: 1934 to 1940 145 

XIV. SIQJJEIROS: 1934 to 1940 167 
XV. RIVERA: 1934 to 1940 175 



XVIII. OROZCO: 1940 to 1949 192 

XIX. SIQUEIROS: Since 1940 211 

XX. RIVERA: Since 1940 235 


Bibliography 269 

Index 277 

List uf Illustrations 

Orozco. Hidalgo y Costilla. Frontis. 

1. Goitia. El Viejo del Muladar . 14 

2. Goitia. Tata Jesucristo .... 16 

3. Posada. Calavera Federal ... 18 

4. Posada. Calavera Huerlista ■ ■ 19 

5. Dr. All. Landscape, 1933 . . . 26 

6. Rivera. The Creation, detail ■ ■ 36 

7. Rivera. Iron Foundry 38 

8. Rivera. Exit from the Mine . ■ 39 

9. Rivera. The New School ... 40 

10. Orozco. The Despoiling ... 44 

11. Orozco. Maternity 47 

12. Orozco. The Trinity 49 

13. Siqueiros. Burial of a Worker, 

unfinished 54 

14. Chariot. Washerwomen .... 62 

15. Rivera. Day of the Dead in the 

City . '. 64 

16. Rivera. Emiliano Z a P ala > detail 65 

17. Rivera. Wall and Ceiling Dec- 

orations. Chapel, Chapingo 66 

18. Rivera. Germination 67 

19. Rivera. Ceiling Decoration. 

Chapel, Chapingo .... 68 

20. Rivera. Virgin Soil 69 

2 1 . Rivera. Staircase Mural . Minis- 

try of Education 71 

22. Rivera. Burial of a Revolutionist 11 

23. Rivera. The Rain 74 

24. Rivera. Enslavement of the Indians 76 

25. Rivera. Conquest of Mexico, de- 

tail on staircase landing . . 78 

26. Rivera. Making of a Motor, de- 

tail of left wall 82-83 

27. Rivera. Steam, Electricity and 

Aviation, west, or entrance, 

wall 84 

28. Rivera. Preventive Medicine, de- 

tail of left wall 85 

29. Rivera. Revolution and Reaction 87 

30. Orozco. Omniscience 88 

3 1 . Orozco. Social Revolution ... 90 

32. Orozco. Destruction of the Old 

Order 92 

33. Orozco. The Mother's Farewell 95 

34. Orozco. In the Mountains {En los 

Cerros) 97 

35. Orozco. The Dead Comrade ■ . 98 
36 Orozco. ^apala 99 

37. Orozco. Qjieensboro Bridge ■ ■ 101 

38. Orozco. Prometheus 102 

39. Orozco. Struggle in the Occi- 

dent 104-105 

40. Orozco. West Wing, Baker Li- 

brary, Dartmouth College 107 

41. Orozco. The Golden Age ... 109 

42. Orozco. Departure of Qjielzalcoatl 110 

43. Orozco. Christ Destroying His 

Cross 113 

44. Siqueiros. Proletarian Mother 116 

45. Castellanos. The Dialogue - ■ 123 

46. Rodriguez Lozano. The Parting 1 24 

47. Guerrero Galvan. Image of 

Mexico 125 

48. Orozco Romero. Los Hilos . . 126 

49. M6rida. Watercolor no. 29 • • 127 

50. Tamayo. Still Life 129 

51. Tamayo. Workers, Rhythm ■ ■ 131 

52. Mendez. The Assassination of 

Profesor Arnulfo Sosa Portillo ■ 1 39 

53. O'Higgins. Calavera de la Justicia 140 

54. Arenal. Head of an Indian Woman 141 

55. Mora. Miner 142 

56. Orozco. Katharsis, central por- 

tion 144 

57. Orozco. Dome and Wall of 

Lecture Hall, University of 

Guadalajara 147 

58. Orozco. The Scientist and por- 

tion of The Worker .... 1 48 

59. Orozco. Main Wall of Lecture 

Hall, University of Guada- 
lajara 149 

60. Orozco. False Leaders and their 

Allies, detail 150 

61. Orozco. The Victims 152 

62. Orozco. Religious Phantasms in 

Alliance with Militarism . . 153 

63. Orozco. Religions Phantasms in 

Alliance with Militarism, detail 154 

64. Orozco. Carnival of the Ideologies 155 

65. Orozco. Carnival of the Ideolo- 

gies, detail 155 

66. Orozco. The Outcasts, detail . 156 

67. Orozco. Dome, Hospicio Ca- 

banas, Guadalajara. ... 159 

68. Orozco. Philip II and the Cross, 

vault section 160 

69. Orozco. Fire, dome detail ■ . 163 

70. Orozco. The Masses 164 

71. Orozco. Allegory of Alexico . . 165 

72. Siqueiros. Self-Portrait .... 168 

73. Siqueiros. Trial of Fascism ■ ■ 171 

74. Siqueiros. Trial of Fascism, detail 172 

75. Siqueiros. Trial of Fascism, de- 

tail 173 

76. Rivera. Man at the Crossroads . 176 

77. Rivera. Fiesta 179 

78. Rivera. Agustin Lorenzo ... 179 

79. Rivera. Mother and Child . . . 181 

80. O'Gorman. History of Religion 185 

8 1 . Orozco. The National Riches, 

detail 193 

82. Orozco. The Working Class 

Movement 194 

83. Orozco. Justice, detail .... 194 

84. Orozco. Choir Vault and Rear 

Wall, Chapel of Jesus Naza- 

reno, Mexico City .... 195 

85. Orozco. The Demon Tied ... 1 96 

86. Orozco. Choir Vault, detail of 

right side, Chapel of Jesus 

Nazareno, Mexico City . . 197 

87. Orozco. National Allegory . ■ . 200 

88. Orozco. National Allegory . . . 201 

89. Orozco. Juarez and the Reform 205 

90. Orozco. Hidalgo and the Lib- 

eration of Mexico 207 

91. Orozco. After the Battle ... 208 

92. Orozco. Indian Pierced by a Lance 209 

93. Siqueiros. Bilbao and Galvarino, 

detail from Liberation of Chile 213 

94. Siqueiros. The Liberation of 

Mexico 214 

95. Siqueiros. Cuauhtemoc, detail 

from Liberation of Mexico ■ ■ 214 

96. Siqueiros. Allegory of Racial 

Equality 217 

97. Siqueiros. Cuauhtemoc against 

the Myth 219 

98. Siqueiros. Cuauhtemoc against the 

Myth, detail 220 

99. Siqueiros. New Resurrection . . 222 

100. Siqueiros. Our Present Image . ■ 223 

101. Siqueiros. Head of Cuauhtemoc . 224 

102. Siqueiros. Nude 225 

103. Siqueiros. The New Democracy ■ 226 

1 04. Siqueiros. Massacre of the Civilian 

Population from The New De- 
mocracy 228 

105. Siqueiros. Patricians and Patri- 

cides, detail 230 

106. Siqueiros. Man the Master and 

Not the Slave of Technology . 231 

107. Siqueiros. Man the Master and 

Not the Slave of Technology, 

left view 232 

108. Rivera. The Temple of the War 

and Rain Gods, detail from 

Life in Pre- Hispanic Mexico . 237 

109. Zalce. £apata 240 

110. Gonzalez Camarcna. Woman . 243 

111. Gonzalez Camarena. Germi- 

nation 244 

112. Gonzalez Camarena. Banking 245 

113. Gonzalez Camarena. Life and 

Industry 247 

1 14. Gonzalez Camarena. Mexico 248-9 

115. Gonzalez Camarena. Huexo- 

tzingo 250 

116. Castro Pacheco. Henneque'n . . 252 

117. Anguiano. Kayom 253 

118. Martinez de Hoyos. Afternoon . 255 

119. Meza. Leopard and Figures . . 256 

120. Tamayo. Singing Bird .... 258 

121. Tamayo. Trembling Woman. . 259 

122. Tamayo. Birth of Nationality 261 

123. Chavez Morado. Return of 

Qjietzalcoatl 264 

124. Siqueiros. The Sage, Sociologist 

and Artist 265 

Mexican Painting in Our Time 

Apres le pain 
V education 
est le premier besoin 
du peuple. 


(Convention Nationale, Discours du 13 Aout 1793) 

Background for a New Art 

The mountain highway leading into Mexico, with hairpin curves and 
violent contrasts of upward and downward movement along beautiful 
but dangerous precipices, symbolizes the modern history of that country. 
The revolt in 1810 against three centuries of Spanish rule was the begin- 
ning of a long tortuous road leading to the Revolution of 1910, which 
produced, as its chief cultural manifestation, modern Mexican painting. 

Even at that point of climax, however, the struggle for liberation of 
the peasant, against a deeply entrenched hacienda system and clergy, 
had merely reached a new level. This problem was to remain among the 
most important in Mexican politics for a long time. It persists in its 
current form as part of the still unfulfilled Mexican Revolution, whose 
visible symbol and conscience is the Mexican painting and graphic work 
of our time. This art constantly refers to the revolutionary and reforming 
heroes of the past. It invokes their memory in reminder of the nation's 
struggles, and consciously suggests through repetition of their stories that 
the Revolution is far from over. 

The revolt initiated in 1810 by the patriot priests Hidalgo y Costilla 
and Morelos not only led to the break with Spain but set forth the social 
and political aims for which Mexico has been fighting ever since. More 
than a century later, there had not yet been achieved all the ideals ex- 
pounded by Morelos in 1813: no special privilege for army or church, a 
living wage for all, racial equality, division of the large estates into small 
parcels for the poor peasants, and better distribution of the nation's 

Although independence in 1 82 1 meant only the substitution of local 
for foreign oppressors, the future course of the land was clearly marked 
along a circuitous path toward reform. The short-lived imperial career 
of the opportunist Iturbide was followed by a few stormy years under a 
liberal constitution, 1824-32, and then by the quarter-century long on- 
and-off dictatorship of the flamboyant Santa Anna. During this time 
Mexico lost Texas and found itself at war with the United States in 
1845-8. These conflicts revealed dramatically the ineffectualness and 
corruption of the politicos and army officers of that day. The liberal 
constitution of 1824 had been replaced in 1836 by a far more conservative 
document, which permitted those individuals to make the republic their 

private possession. The Scottish born and American bred wife of the first 
Spanish ambassador to Mexico during this period recounted her con- 
tinual astonishment at the disparity between the magnificent displays of 
the wealthy clergy and rich families and the tremendous number of 
beggars and suffering poor in the streets. 

The long course of Santa Anna's intermittent control ended in 1855. 
Mexico returned once more to the road of liberal accomplishment under 
the leadership of Miguel Lerdo de Tejada and the great Indian Benito 
Juarez, author of the constitution of 1857 and hero of the Reform. A 
new attack was made on the problems of church domination and special 
privileges of the clergy and military. More than anything else, the new 
constitution was intended to break up the great estates of the church for 
the advantage of the general public. At the height of the violent civil 
strife which ensued, Juarez as president continued to carry out his 
program. He and his cabinet framed the Reform measures which con- 
fiscated properties of the church, disbanded monastic orders and church 
schools, made marriage a civil rather than a religious arrangement, 
abolished all titles of nobility, and stipulated freedom of worship for all 
faiths as well as freedom of the press and the right of free assembly. 

By 1861 the Juarez forces had defeated the reactionaries, but a large 
unrepaid French loan to the leader of the opponents of the Reform gave 
France a pretext for the disastrous intervention of 1861-7. Supported by 
French troops, the Austrian Archduke Maximilian and his wife Carlotta 
ascended the throne of Mexico as representatives of Napoleon III. When, 
in the period immediately following the United States Civil War, the 
French were forced to withdraw by United States pressure, by Mexican 
arms, and by exigencies in Europe, Maximilian was dethroned and 
executed. Juarez now tried to bring order out of the chaotic conditions. 
Improvement of the situation of the Indian masses — still landless, poverty- 
stricken, and uneducated — seemed to him the primary job. Hampered 
by the disaffection of the poor ex-soldiers, the greed of a horde of petty 
politicians, and the difficulty of working democratically in a country by 
no means accustomed to democracy, Juarez often used a firm and even 
autocratic hand. 

Porfirio Diaz, military hero of the war against the French, who had 
fought unsuccessfully against Juarez's election to a fourth term, also 
opposed the re-election of Juarez's successor, Sebastian Lerdo. On a plat- 
form of 'effective suffrage and no re-election,' Diaz was able to gather 
a good deal of liberal support, dislodge Lerdo, obtain recognition by the 
congress, and set himself up as defender of the democratic process and 
the constitution. The Reform of Juarez, however, had tried to establish 
both a democratic form of government and a general economic develop- 
ment, while Diaz inevitably drifted in the direction of a dictatorship 
whose purpose was to achieve the latter aim, however much the former 
had to be sacrificed. For thirty-four years he remained in control of a 

Mexico which in the period since Iturbide (from 1822 to 1876) had had 
forty presidents, two emperors, a number of temporary governments, 
innumerable revolts, exilings, summary executions, and political switches. 
His career presents the constant paradox of a zealous liberal who comes 
to power and finds it easier or more advantageous to become a conser- 

In his terrific drive for power and his equally strong need for peace, 
Diaz welcomed all adherents, offering opportunities for enrichment to 
his supporters and ruthlessly crushing those who opposed him. The 
Reform movement of the immediate past no longer functioned, and the 
lower classes figured very little in his plans. To encourage economic 
development, he offered liberal concessions to foreign investors, in the 
course of which Mexico's natural resources were given away. The profits 
from these usually untaxed enterprises went abroad to Europe and the 
United States, minimizing the advantages to Mexico of the original in- 
vestment and stirring up a powerful nationalistic feeling that reinforced 
the existing antiforeign attitudes. Since no consistent plan was followed 
in this process of industrialization, it enriched the investors more than it 
aided the economy of the nation. 

Under Diaz, enslavement of the peasant population rose to far greater 
heights than ever before, and possession of land became concentrated in 
the hands of a small number of Mexican and foreign companies. Not 
only was land given away as a form of political bribery, but peasants were 
forced off their little plots into the debt-peonage of the hacienda system. 
It is estimated that by the end of the agonizingly long era of Diaz about 
95 per cent of the rural population owned no land. Similarly the eccle- 
siastical measures of the Reform were ignored as Diaz entered into a 
working arrangement with the church. He passed on its major appoint- 
ments and permitted re-establishment of monastic institutions and ac- 
cumulation of property. Naturally the grateful clergy preached obed- 
ience to his dictatorship. 

Opposition to his regime was virtually impossible, as he bought or 
suppressed newspapers, controlled the police, played off one olficial ' 
against another, and nominated the members of congress and the judici- 
ary. The rural areas were controlled by reducing the Indian population 
to peonage and establishing an efficiently brutal corps of rurales — the 
mounted police, often former bandits, whose treatment of the peasants 
was so vividly demonstrated in Eisenstein's famous film, Thunder over 
Mexico. In one scene of this motion picture, these agents of Diaz take a 
group of rebellious farmers and bury them up to their necks so that the 
gallant rurales could play a ghoulish form of polo with their heads. This 
may be an extreme instance, but it effectively dramatizes that side of the 

Most significant for the development of Mexico was the growth of a 
powerful mestizo (part Indian) class of state and local politicians, which 

I * 

took its place beside the older Creole (native white) group of landowners. 
Although capital kept pouring in from abroad, this huge political ap- 
paratus maintained by Diaz necessitated large high-interest loans that 
were to plague the country at a later date. 

During the later years of the dictatorship, from the 1890's on, a new 
generation of so-called cientificos (scientific ones) became increasingly in- 
fluential in the government. These materialists believed strongly in 
progress through science rather than through the liberalism of the 
Juarez period. Distorting the ideas of Darwin on survival of the fittest, 
they advocated the domination of whites not only over Indians but over 
?nestizos, who at that moment played a major part in the administration. 
Cientifico lawyers, economists, and intellectuals brought Mexico even 
closer to Europe in the cultural sphere than it had been before, while 
Anglo-Saxon economic dominance grew greater than ever. Although they 
undoubtedly improved the efficiency of the administration, the cientificos 
took for themselves (and by legal means) large portions of the nation's 

Whatever superficial prosperity Mexico may have shown in the era 
of Porfirio Diaz, however many new mansions, broad avenues, railroads, 
telegraph lines, and flourishing business enterprises may have appeared, 
the fact remains that the bulk of Mexican people — the Indians — were in a 
state of medieval misery. On the haciendas, brutal managers kept this 
enormous portion of the population in virtual serfdom. Forced to buy 
their necessities at the hacienda store at arbitrary prices, the peasants 
remained in constant debt-peonage, lived on a bare subsistence diet, 
suffered from disease, and were harried by the rapid increase of prices. 
Here was one potential and immediate source of revolt. 

As for industrial workers in the service of foreign-dominated and 
foreign-owned companies, their condition was equally miserable, and 
just as in the case of the peasants there was no recourse to higher authority 
for fair treatment. The foreigner, according to Diaz, was always right. 
In spite of brutal repression, unions were formed and strikes, though 
unsuccessful, organized. In such instances Mexican soldiers were forced 
to shoot down their countrymen to keep inviolate the privileges of 
foreign mine and mill owners. The infiltration of anarcho-syndicalist 
and socialist ideas by way of the United States and Spain and other parts 
of Europe provided another important background factor in the rising 
discontent with the status quo. 

Diaz, whose position during this long period had been almost im- 
pregnable, since he had both his own and foreign support, went so far 
in giving privileges to United States and European businessmen that he 
finally realized he had given them, especially the 'North Americans,' too 
much power. Trying to play one foreign group against another in his 
usual way, he found that the 'North Americans' withdrew their support 
and encouraged his political enemies. The question of the succession to 

the aging dictator, a pressing one for some time, arose again, while the 
financial crisis ofl907, combined with a disastrous harvest and starvation, 
increased the prevailing restlessness. A new Democratic party appeared, 
demanding improvements, while post-cientifico intellectuals worked along 
the same lines. 

Francisco Madero had become famous in 1908 for the forthrightness 
of his book, The Presidential Succession in 1910. The diminutive, mild- 
mannered idealist now rose as spearhead of the new movement. This son 
of a wealthy family organized his own newspaper and a group of anti- 
re-election clubs, whose convention nominated him as their presidential 
candidate. From a jail cell, Madero, for whom 30,000 supporters had 
previously demonstrated, learned that he had been counted out by the 
government's tally officials with less than two hundred votes for the entire 
nation. On his release, he fled to the United States, from where he an- 
nounced publicly that the elections had been dishonest, appointed him- 
self provisional president, and called for a general revolt. 

By 1911 Diaz had been forced to resign, but Madero, elected late the 
same year, was too much the pacifist and idealist for that bloody and 
brutal time. He refused to put the dangerous ones out of the way and 
hoped to reform Mexico by his own pious example. The disappointed 
masses were once more stirred to revolt. The peasant leader Emiliano 
Zapata called for return of the lands that had been stolen from the villages. 
As the revolution spread, conservatives of the old Diaz group, aided by 
the treacherous General Huerta and encouraged by United States am- 
bassador Henry Lane Wilson, forced the resignation of Madero and his 
vice-president Pino Suarez. These two were promptly murdered by 
Huerta, who then became president, supported by the landowners, old 
Diaz officials, and the church. 

But the torrent unleashed by the gentle Madero could not be stopped. 
In the north a movement to avenge him began under Venustiano Ca- 
rranza, who, with the help of Obregon, de la Huerta, and Calles, formed 
the Constitutionalist army to oust the vicious Huerta. Pancho Villa, who 
had fought on the side of Madero, now returned from the United States 
to gather a rapidly growing Army of the North, whose counterpart in the 
south was the forces of Emiliano Zapata. The existence of these three 
groups soon forced Huerta (now deprived of United States support by 
President Woodrow Wilson's refusal to recognize him) to flee. 

For some time the three victorious armies jockeyed for mastery of 
Mexico. Villa marched on the capital abandoned by the government 
troops of Carranza, but Zapata and his army of peasants forestalled him. 
The two came to some sort of working agreement, and both armies 
occupied Mexico City — the Zapatistas with simple peasant decorum, the 
Villistas running amuck in every kind of excess, inflamed by the example 
of their flamboyant leader. 

Carranza, who had retired to Vera Cruz, now promulgated a series 

I t 

of reform decrees, allocating land to the peasants. Obregon, endeavoring 
to recruit the aid of the working men for Carranza, wooed the socialist 
Casa del Obrero Mundial (House of the Worker of the World) and made 
friends with Luis Morones, the future labor leader. To these people he 
promised the help of the government in labor disputes and unionization 
problems, thus setting the stage for the later government-labor co-opera- 
tion, first under Obregon and then under Calles. Ultimately Villa was 
driven back to the United States border, while Zapata retired to Morelos, 
where he held out for three years. Although the United States recognized 
the Carranza government in October 1915, the depredations of Villa 
across the border brought the entry of United States troops into Mexico in 
1916. This act was much resented by the Mexicans. After a strong protest 
from Carranza, the 'North Americans' withdrew in February 1917. 

The constitution of 1917, especially in Articles 27 and 123, marks a 
turning point in the story of the Mexican Revolution. Under Article 27, 
concessions for private exploitation of Mexico's natural (particularly 
subsoil) resources were still permitted, but it was clearly stipulated that 
these resources belonged to the nation, which retained the right of ex- 
propriation, with compensation to the private owners. Further, the 
ejidos, community-owned farm lands that had been taken from the 
villages, were now returned to them. Article 123, equally famous in the 
history of Mexican economic reform, was labor's Magna Charta. It 
guaranteed the right to form unions and to strike, the right to a minimum 
wage and an eight-hour day, and the abolition of child labor and peonage. 
In Mexico City there is a street called Articulo 123. 

Despite the dishonesty with which these two articles (and those reaf- 
firming the Juarez position on the church) were administered in the time 
of Carranza, despite the plundering and corruption by the new revolution- 
ary leaders, this coming to grips with the economic problems of Mexico 
changed the entire complexion of the Revolution. Under Carranza also, 
the agrarian leader Zapata was treacherously murdered in 1919, but in 
the heroic example of his life Zapata has remained a legend, the hero of 
innumerable folk songs and a favorite theme for painters such as Rivera 
and Orozco. 

When the time came for another election, Carranza tried to put in his 
own candidate, but Obregon had the support of the newly formed craft 
union, C. R. O. M. (Regional Workers Confederation of Mexico), led 
by Luis Morones. Obregon was elected and took office in 1920. Thus 
after ten years of civil war and many occupations of the capital by rival 
armies, with attendant bloodlettings, Mexico was once more at peace, 
and able to take another step along the route of economic and social 

A Culture in Revnlulinn 


Spontaneously and without plan, the variety of pressures against Diaz 
had broken through and swept the land, growing into the Revolution 
that continues today on another plane. It remains the vision to which 
both left and right still refer — for some a genuine ideal, for others a gaudy 
cloak in which to dress opportunist political or artistic aims. 

In its beginning the Revolution had no formal program, nor was there 
any one reason for so many different types of humanity to be swept up in 
its fury. Peasants left the haciendas on their own, feeling themselves 
released from peonage, or wishing to take advantage of the opportunities 
for looting. Sometimes they followed a member of the owner's family 
going off to war; sometimes they were already in hiding from Diaz press 
gangs and drifted toward the scene of revolt. An important source of 
recruits was those who, like Zapata, had been stripped of their farms by 
the big district landowners. 

From these individuals bands were formed, then troops, and finally 
armies. Everyone felt there was something for him in the Revolution, 
something to make up for the things lacking in the life of a worker or a 
peasant, a professional or an intellectual. The small armies were usually 
led by minor landowners (traditional enemies of the hacendados, or estate 
owners, their friends the land sharks, money lenders, and others such as 
the local judges, mayors, and priests). In these armies there were often 
young students, lawyers, and the like, who wrote the speeches and kept 
the records, and poets who sang their own songs to guitars. Artists were 
also involved; some played important roles as officers or propagandists, 
e.g. Orozco as a cartoonist and Siqueiros as a young officer inspiring his 
men. The pacifist Goitia became a recording artist to a Villa group, while 
other noncombatant painters opposed the conservative art authorities 
and the Academy. 

Apart from such expressions of feeling as the lusty Villa anthem La 
Cucaracha (The Cockroach), the haunting marching song of Zapata's 
barefoot peasants, Qiiatro Milpas (Four Fields), or an occasional wordy 
manifesto, the troops did their fighting with no definite purpose. They 
carried on local actions for the most part, against nearby estates and 
towns, took tribute from all, and added to their numbers and resources. 
They had in common an undying hatred for past tyranny, a rather vague 

dream of a better life somewhere in the future, loyalty toward their leader, 
and a love of the adventurous and occasionally profitable life they were 
leading. Writers and artists, many of whom had felt intellectually op- 
pressed, forced to admire the foreign and to scorn the native and the 
ordinary, were able to share these feelings and become absorbed into the 

The identification of intellectuals with this dynamic spirit emerges in 
the greatest book of the Revolution, Los de Abajo (Those from Below), 
written by a participant, Dr. Mariano Azuela. 'You ask me why I am 
still a rebel?' says one of his characters. 'Well, the revolution is like a 
hurricane; if you're in it, you're not a man . . . you're a leaf, a dead leaf, 
blown by the wind.' Azuela makes us aware less of social idealism than 
of man's inevitable suffering and cruelty, his mystical need for belonging 
to the vast Revolution, feelings shared by Orozco, which made him the 
ideal illustrator for this book. The author says further: '. . . Villa? Obre- 
gon? Carranza? What's the difference? I love the revolution like a volcano 
in eruption; I love the volcano because it is a volcano, the revolution be- 
cause it's the revolution! What do I care about the stones left above or 
below after the cataclysm? What arc they to me?' 3 

Dr. Azuela himself exemplifies the involvement of professionals, in- 
tellectuals — indeed all Mexicans — in the suffering of that period. This 
involvement has given a specifically national and Revolutionary character 
to Mexican literature, art, and politics. Even today artists are criticized 
if they did nothing for the cause, and politicians are attacked for some 
dubious action at that time. Most artists of both the first and second 
generations of the modern Mexican movement were part of the Revo- 
lution; their paintings and prints deal with that material, in a way that 
leaves no doubt of their direct experiences. 

As the Revolution grew, Diaz's federal army melted away, many 
going over to guerrilla generals, some forming their own revolutionary 
units with the help of local rebel leaders. This new element helped to turn 
the earlier guerrilla warfare into a more regularized type of fighting. 

The constitution of 1917 illustrates the lack of agreement among the 
generals about what they expected from the Revolution. They did 
know - , however, what they hated: foreign domination, church power, 
large estates, special privilege, and concentration of wealth. The dynamic 
and effective side of Mexican art, as seen in Orozco and Siqueiros, often 
expresses the same attitudes. 

As the army that was the Revolution became the government, the 
generals had to reward as many followers as possible and yet give evidence 
of revolutionary zeal. Of the projects suggested by revolutionary in- 
tellectuals, art and education seem to have been selected as activities 

1 Mariano Azuela, The Under Dogs, trans, by E. Munguia, Jr., introd. by 
Carleton Beals, illns. by J. C. Orozco, Brentano's, X. V., 1929, pp. 101, 207. 


involving the least possible danger to the generals or expense to the new 
regime. Within a few years, however, art rose to a point where it began 
to show up the hollow promises of the politicians and had to be held in 

Most Mexican intellectuals of the early post-Revolution 'twenties, 
unlike their European and United States counterparts, rejected the 
pessimism of Dada, New Objectivity, and Magic Realism. They gave 
instead an exalted and fervent response to the promise of the future, 
charting a route that still remains to be traversed. The beginning of the 
modern Mexican art movement, like the Revolution itself, seems to have 
been without program; its strong political character was a later develop- 
ment. A common dislike of the academic, the European, the inferior, and 
the artificially sentimental brought the artists together to find a means 
of expression understandable to the people. The mural became the 
apparent answer and, since they knew little about murals, this also had 
to be developed. 

The new movement was in a sense a rehabilitation. After centuries- 
long dependence on the art of Spain, the break with the mother country 
and the later split between church and state in 1857 had torn up the roots 
of Mexican art without replanting them elsewhere. Under Maximilian, 
Mexico City had been remodeled in the French style. Homes, clothes, 
jewels — everything followed Paris. The trend was accentuated by in- 
creasing wealth among the upper classes and the practice of sending 
young people to France for their education. During the confused period 
between the revolt against Maximilian and the accession of Diaz in 1876, 
art was distinctly secondary. In the Diaz era of 'peace and prosperity,' 
buildings of all kinds were erected", theaters, jails, post offices, city halls, 
and so on, all in a second-rate French academic style. French academic 
painting of the most blatant sentimentalism was taught at the official 
Academy, where copying from casts, sketching from Greek vases, and 
copying from Murillo were standard procedures. The National Theater 
building, begun in 1900 and finished later as the Palacio de Bellas Artes, 
shows vividly the shallow eclecticism of that period. 

Some painters at the beginning of the twentieth century reflect an 
awareness of Impressionism, either the Zuloaga-Sorolla version brought 
in from Spain or the more genuine form produced by Joaquin Clausell 
(1866-1935) and Alfredo Ramos Martinez (1881-1946). The first decade 
of our century also offers the first evidences of Mexicanism in the work 
of painters such as Saturnino H err an (1887-1918), who was one of the 
first to use regional themes, although sentimentally. These paintings 
portray idealized Indians in a naturalistic studio light, and mark a 
transition between the European-influenced Mexican art of the late nine- 
teenth century (Zuloaga and Sorolla) and the more realistic product of 
the next epoch. 

More important, this period felt the initial effect of one of the real 


fermenting influences of the Mexican movement, the celebrated Dr. Atl. 
Born Gerardo Murillo (c. 1875), he began to paint under an old-fashioned 
portraitist. In 1896 he left Mexico to study philosophy and law in Rome, 
and wandered through Italy, Spain, and France. In Paris the future 
Mexican Revolutionary organized a protest demonstration against the 
censoring of Jacob Epstein's tomb for Oscar Wilde. 

In 1904 Dr. Atl returned to Mexico to take a leading part in the early 
stirrings of the art movement, preaching mural painting for the first time 
and the Mexicanization of culture. (He had dropped his family name — 
the hated academic symbol Murillo — for the Nahuatl Indian atl, i.e. 
water.) He organized expeditions, subsidized artists, led strikes, defended 
neo-Impressionism, and wrote criticism, other prose, and poetry; he did 
articles on volcanology as well as work in botany, mining, and astrology. 
At this point the fiery Dr. Atl was an anarcho-syndicalist whose aesthetic 
point of view paralleled the political and social attitudes of the Casa del 
Obrero Mundial, which he himself had recently organized. 

During these last years of the Diaz dictatorship, preparations were 
being made for the centenary celebration of the 1810 revolt from Spain. 
In his usual grandiose fashion, Diaz hoped to make this the climax of his 
career — and in a way it was. To make sure that the celebration of Mexican 
independence was not turned over to foreign artists, the nationalist- 
minded Dr. Atl created in 1910 Mexico's first artists' organization, the 
Centro Artistico. Although the Centro was given a commission to decorate 
the Anfiteatro Bolivar in the National Preparatory School (later painted 
by Rivera), the outbreak of the Revolution that very year changed 

Dr. Atl left Mexico again to study volcanology in Naples. In Lausanne 
he talked politics with Lenin and, together with a young socialist news- 
paper man named Benito Mussolini, put out an anticlerical paper in 

The beginning of political revolution in Mexico was paralleled by 
revolt among the art students at the National Academy of San Carlos in 
1911, against the academic methods of the past. From this essentially 
anti-Diaz gesture there developed, early in 1913, a number of open-air 
schools under Alfredo Ramos Martinez, the enthusiastic Impressionist 
recently returned from Europe. That same year, during the brief in- 
cumbency of the usurper Huerta and as a sop to the insurgent forces, 
Ramos Martinez was made director of the Academy. 

The students of the open-air school studied this painter's version of 
Impressionism in their Barbizon-like retreat in the suburbs of Mexico 
City, deriving benefit from direct contact with nature but aesthetically, 
through no fault of their own, somewhat behind the times. Many of these 
youngsters plotted against Huerta and joined the revolutionary forces 
attempting to unseat him. As for the open-air school, which was later 
moved to Coyoacan, in spite of its rather mild artistic progressivism at 


that moment, it had the effect of imparting to Mexican painting the 
highly keyed color quality that is retained to this day. 

The 1913 coup of Huerta brought Dr. Atl back to Mexico City, where 
he joined the Carranza forces, taking an active part in the revolutionary 
excitement of the time. In addition to organizing the 'red battalions' of 
workers, he brought together a group of young writers and intellectuals. 
One night early in 1914 he convinced a band of workers who had about 
decided to join the oncoming Villa forces to switch to Carranza, and the 
entire crowd fled on the last freight leaving for Orizaba, carrying away 
a load of precious printing equipment. There, in a complex of abandoned 
church buildings, Atl enlisted the aid of his writers and artists (among 
the latter the young Orozco) to produce an illustrated newspaper, 
posters, and other propaganda material. 

The nativism or Mexicanism implied in the paintings of Herran and 
the preachments of Atl received a powerful impetus during this early 
revolutionary period from the work of Francisco Goitia, one of the most 
important precursors of the modern development. Born in Zacatecas in 
1884, Goitia came to the Federal District as a boy. He studied at the 
Academy of Fine Arts and made his living as a pressman for etchings. On 
a government scholarship he went to Europe in 1904, spending most of 
his time in Italy and Spain. 

In 1912 the pacifist Goitia returned to Mexico, where, as a recording 
artist, he followed the corps of General Angeles under Villa in the north 
until 1917, when Carranza finally won out. In the course of those years 
Goitia began to produce his increasingly naturalistic scenes of Mexican 
life. Such pictures as the 1916 Dance of the Revolution and the Viejo del 
Muladar (fig. 1) of the same date mark the point at which the great 
tragedy of the Mexican people finally begins to emerge in art. His later 
paintings are better known, especially the Tata Jesucristo (fig. 2), but are 
not nearly so significant historically, coming after the Preparatory 
School murals of Orozco. Goitia's earlier art is an important step away 
from folklorism, from the picturesque nativism of Herran and his con- 
temporaries toward the new, more socially conscious point of view that 
was to be developed through the 'twenties by others. 

Goitia's growing awareness of the Mexican heritage is typical of those 
artists who, like Orozco and Siqueiros, had direct contact with the 
realities of the Revolution. Their broadened knowledge and sympathy 
with the people were expressed in a constantly expanding aura of nation- 
alistic form and fervor. Even painters and writers who were not in 
Mexico for the actual fighting realized — perhaps because of the spread- 
ing vogue for primitivism — that they had an Indian tradition. 

Among the many intellectuals drawn home because of the political 
emergency was the anthropologist Manuel Gamio. To Gamio must be 
given the credit for reducing to scientific terms one of the great spiritual 
components of the Revolution, its awareness of the grandeur of its own 


GOITIA. El Viejo del Muladar ('The Old Man of the Dump Heap), oil. 


tradition. Instead of trying to educate the Indian and integrate him into 
the development of modern technological society, Gamio called for the 
re-education of the so-called literate ones, who would, in the process of 
absorbing this tradition, help to 'weld a fatherland.' 

Gamio set up a National Department of Anthropology, choosing the 
important region of San Juan Teotihuacan near the capital for special 
investigation. Into this area he sent missionaries to study the country and 
its people. Partly as a result of their work, specific political and economic 
changes were made there, as well as important archaeological and socio- 
logical studies. To climax these investigations, Gamio called in an artist 
to crystallize and pictorialize the material, a procedure that often recurs 
in the later development of the 'Mexican renaissance,' when exciting new 
ideas, especially in the field of education, are carried out or sparked by 
artists. The artist chosen for Teotihuacan was Francisco Goitia, who 
worked there from 1918 to 1925, seeking 'the sorrows of the race.' He 


also continued to produce his native types, his personal expression of the 
way of life of the Mexican people, especially their misery. 

In 1925 Goitia went to Oaxaca to study native customs, still painting 
in his own manner the beggars, cripples, oppressed, and poor — some in 
light, almost remote colors, others in the powerful expressionist tones of 
his famous Tata Jesucristo (1926-7). A mystic spirit, Goitia is often over- 
come by his own feelings, but he is a characteristic product of his time, is 
typically Mexican, and is one of the earliest honest painters of native life. 
For this last reason especially, Goitia has been an important progenitor 
and influence in the modern Mexican school. 

Disagreeing with the mural development and with the political direc- 
tion of Mexican art during the 'thirties. Goitia withdrew to Xochimilco 
on a permanent government scholarship designed to give him time to 
paint. There he has taught school for many years, his art turning toward 
sunny landscapes as he retired from the movement. The early directness 
and honesty of Goitia's painting are emphasized by his words concerning 
the Tata Jesucristo: 

I tried my models sitting this way and that, but no, I didn't feel it 
exactly right. At last I investigated everything I could about them. I then 
made them come and sit for me on the Day of the Dead, when of their 
own accord they would be dwelling on sorrow, and little by little I un- 
covered their sorrow and the revolution and their dead. And they 
writhed, and one turned her foot up in the pain. Then I knew I had it! 
Those hands and feet gave their grief the genuine form. I would never 
have thought of it myself, but of course that is the way grief is, and so I 
was satisfied at last. They weep tears of our race, pain and tears our own 
and different from others. All the sorrow of Mexico is there. 2 

The nativism of other intellectuals during the Revolutionary period — 
and even later — was somewhat more self-conscious. A genuine expression 
of Mexicanism, however, appeared in the work of Jose Guadalupe Posada 
(1851-1913), a pure emanation of the humor and imaginativeness of the 
people. Posada also reflected the dissatisfaction with the political situation 
at the end of the Diaz era. His work began in the 'seventies with a series 
of political lithographs, related technically to the delicate French carica- 
ture style of the 'sixties. Coming to Mexico City in 1887 to work for the 
conservative publishing house of Vanegas Arroyo, Posada devoted a good 
deal of energy to illustrating for various papers in opposition to Diaz, 
anticipating the caricaturists of the Revolution period. The great im- 
portance of Posada for artists such as Rivera and Orozco has long been 
recognized; these two and many others of the first modern generation 
have freely acknowledged their indebtedness.' The same is true of artists 
of the second and even the third generations, especially in the graphic 

Anita Brenner, Idols behind Altars, Payson & Clarke Ltd., N.Y., 1929, p. 297. 


goitia. Tata Jesucristo. oil. 


As early as the 1890's, Posada maintained an open shop fronting on 
the street and occupying the former carriage entrance of a house on the 
Calle Santa Inez. Here everyone could see him at work, including students 
on their way to and from the Academy of San Carlos. According to Jean 
Chariot, 3 Orozco recalled that at the age of ten he saw Posada at work 
on his metal plates, turning out the sensational corridos, or throw-away 
sheets, for which he is famous. A little farther along the street, the boy 
would stop before the shop of Antonio Vanegas Arroyo the publisher, 

'Jean Chariot, Art Making from Mexico to China, Sheed & Ward, N.Y., 1950. 


where the ladies of the family were occupied in hand-coloring Posada's 
sheets for public sale. This was done with stencils and gaudy colors. The 
historical and contemporary themes of these broadsheets, in Posada's 
bold line and blatant colors, made an ineradicable impression on young 
Orozco. They were a violent contrast to the academic routine of his 
school, with its anatomy charts and plaster casts, its occasional land- 
scape exercise for relaxation. Rivera also has recorded his early reactions 
to the work of Posada and the Vanegas Arroyo workshop. 

After the early lithograph style, Posada used a second technique in a 
coarser manner designed for the penny pamphlets that Arroyo got out 
as a kind of poor man's bible for the nearly illiterate. Since in those days 
this meant a high percentage of the population, the impact of Posada's 
prints had to be immediate and forceful — cither horrible or ludicrous or 
both. Arroyo also put out a Gaceta Callejera, a 'newspaper of the streets' 
with handcut pictures, very much like the late nineteenth-century illu- 
strated papers in the United States. Exciting extras of the journal were 
issued with scenes of street demonstrations, fights, murders, religious 
phenomena, and so on. The demand for this material was so great that 
Posada often used stock compositions which could be slightly changed 
and freshly labeled for the occasion. 

Among the most exciting art forms produced by Posada in this period 
were the calaveras, or skeleton pictures, cut in wood or type-metal with 
a burin to form a white line on a black background. A preoccupation 
with death is part of the Mexican tradition, as seen in the moralistic- 
engravings of the colonial period or in the celebration of the Day of the 
Dead, with the skeleton-shaped candies, toys, and foods. The skeleton 
print itself emerged for the first time in the 'seventies in the work of one 
of Posada's immediate predecessors, Santiago Hernandez. 4 Taken up 
by Posada, this new form was applied to every kind of social and political 
problem, achieving tremendous acceptance among the Mexican people. 
It was used for historical themes such as the French Intervention, in the 
calavera of that name, and even more for contemporary problems, as in 
the Calavera Federal (fig. 3), a portrayal of one of the scourges of the early 
Revolutionary period, the federal soldier. Perhaps the most famous of 
Posada's calaveras, done shortly before the print-maker's death in 1913, 
is the devastating and horrible Calavera Huertista (fig. 4), which created 
a sensation throughout Mexico. It shows the vicious Huerta as a loath- 
some tarantula with a skeleton head, devouring the skeletons of his 

Here at an early stage was a political prophet and a pioneer social 
realist. Within a relatively short time many of his prophetic scenes came 
to life as the Revolution broke out afresh. One can almost say that the 
ideal of a 'people's art,' so ardently sought after by the artists of the 

Fernando Gamboa, 'Calaveras,' Mexico en el Arte, Nov. 1948, no. 5. 


posada. Calavera Federal. 


Revolution, was already a fact in the art of Posada. Orozco is quoted as 
having remarked, as the mural movement began and he himself had 
not yet been involved: 'Why paint for the people? The people make their 
own art.' 5 

The people of Mexico do have a popular art tradition of great strength, 
extending from pottery and other crafts to the beautiful papier-mache 
figures of the Day of Judases, the striking pulqueria or saloon murals, and 
the graphic works of men like Posada. What the Revolution produced was 
a series of so-called fine arts, drawing strength from the popular arts and 
the events of the time: mural and easel painting, sculpture, and graphics. 
It remains an open question, however, to what extent these forms may 
be referred to as 'people's art,' however broad their aims. Surely some 
of the political harangues of Rivera's murals or the philosophical sym- 
bols of Orozco must baffle many of their intended audience. Moreover, 
the locale of most of the early murals, inside the National Preparatory 
School, the Ministry of Education, and so forth, did not bring these works 
before a very large number of the people. Only in the graphic-arts area 
has the popular tradition of Posada continued to flourish, and here only 
when practiced by specifically political groups such as the Taller de 
Grafica Popular (Workshop of Popular Graphic Art). The Taller con- 

Chariot, fip. cit. 

tinues to produce corridos and calaveras in the spirit and with the technique 
of Posada, from whom they proudly trace their lineage. 

Posada's techniques, as we have seen, included the early lithograph 
and wood and metal cuts. To these should be added the relief etching, 
made by drawing on a zinc plate with acid-resistant inks, then allowing 
the rest of the plate to be bitten by an acid bath that dissolves some of 
the non-inked metal, leaving the inked and protected lines to stand out 
in relief. This was a freer and more casual method than that of the 
engraved calaveras, the latter necessarily being more primitive and naive 
in feeling; but in either technique the accent was upon the real and the 
everyday. Although the prints of Posada did not have the status of art 
when they were done, their effect on at least two major figures in the 
Mexican movement (Rivera and Orozco) seems quite clear. 

During 1914-15 Orozco did caricatures for La Vanguardia, the Ca- 
rranzist paper put out in Orizaba under the leadership of Dr. Atl. Other 
artists in Orizaba who stored up visual memories for their future roles 
in the movement were Siqueiros, Jose Guadalupe Zuno, Ramon Alva 
de la Canal, and Francisco Cahero. Late in 1916, Orozco (already known 
for his drawings of women) showed a number of his schoolgirls and 


posada. Calavera Huertista. 



prostitutes, some of the newspaper caricatures, and sketches for an oil 
painting. Although poorly received, this show was another step in the 
realistic graphic Posada tradition. Orozco's caricature comments on the 
extremist behavior of the Carranza forces after their 1915 return to the 
capital made him unpopular with those in power, and this may have 
been a contributing cause of his leaving Mexico for the United States in 

The nativism developing in Goitia and Posada moved another step 
forward in 1918 with the presentation of a Mexican ballet starring the 
famous Anna Pavlova. With specifically Mexican music composed for 
the occasion and equally nativist costumes and scenery designed by 
Adolfo Best-Maugard, this work ran for a month in the capital, raising 
enormously the prestige of Indian-derived material. (In 1921, Best- 
Maugard was to organize an elaborate fair in Mexico City's Chapultepec 
Park, featuring native dances and music.) 

The success of the Pavlova ballet and the general use of native ideas 
helped to turn the theater in this direction. Like the prints of Posada, new 
dramatic efforts included salty references to contemporary political and 
social types, expressed with the same morbid humor found in Mexican 
painting. Like the soon-to-be-created modern Mexican school of painting, 
the theater developed a number of important stereotypes, such as the 
heroic peasant, the evil ranch owner, the dishonest politician, and the 
dissolute soldier, which may well have had a direct bearing on parallel 
forms in the plastic arts. 

In 1919 a movement to regenerate the popular arts was begun by 
Roberto Montenegro, a talented painter and illustrator, who was respon- 
sible for the magnificent collection of popular arts in the Museo Nacional 
de Artes Plasticas. Dr. Ad's contribution to this movement was signi- 
ficant; after 1920, he made a survey of the popular arts for all Mexico. 
Although the new evaluation of these forms can be looked upon as part 
of a resurgent nationalism, it is a genuine folk art, varying in each section 
of Mexico and showing a remarkable degree of vitality in its many 
aspects. The interest in it is important not only as a symptom of change 
from foreign to native values but also as a source of influence on con- 
temporary Mexican artists, who have been affected by precolonial and 
colonial forms as well. 

In 1919 also, a revolutionary government of artists was established in 
the state of Jalisco under Jose Guadalupe Zuno (who had been at Orizaba 
in 1914). This painter-governor organized a Congress of Soldier Artists 
with the help of Siqueiros, Amado de la Cueva, Xavier Guerrero, and 
Carlos Orozco Romero, to investigate the possible new directions for art 
and culture in general. As one of the results, Siqueiros, Orozco Romero, 
and others were sent to Europe for additional study. 

With the inauguration of Obregon as president in December 1920, 
the military phase of the Revolution ended. 


The Obregdn Period 
1920 to 1924 


The cultural advances during Alvaro Obregon's administration were 
strong enough to mark a definite break with the past. The social and 
political character of this era, however, was not startlingly different from 
that of the period immediately preceding. 

The governmental apparatus, still substantially what it had been under 
Diaz, gradually began to administer the reforms set forth in the new 
constitution. In addition to the usual inertia, reform was hampered by 
the appearance of a new ruling class, the Revolutionary victors, which 
sought its own advantage in the tradition of Mexican politics. The govern- 
ment was still run by one man with the doubtful aid of local chiefs and 
far-from-idealistic state governors. Many of these figures began to refer 
to themselves as socialists and warriors against Yankee imperialism, an 
overworked if genuine issue. 

Obregon himself, not so much a revolutionary idealist as a realist, was 
more concerned with political peace and economic stability than with 
democracy and individual freedom. With the rights of the workers now 
more secure, his basic aim was to develop a native middle class and to 
fight the still medieval system of landowners and clergy — but without 
any radical change in ownership of the land. Although there was more 
freedom of the press and of congressional criticism, Obregon still re- 
mained the master playing one faction against another. An important 
source of his power was the Labor Party, his old friends; as a result, 
C.R.O.M. unions were favored over others that arose. At the same time 
a rival agrarian union led by the murdered Zapata's counselor, Soto y 
Gama, was encouraged to offset the power of labor and to appease the 
peasants who had still not received their lands back from the hacendados. 
Labor's gains in this period were far more tangible than those of the 
peasantry because government encouragement built up the Grupo Ac- 
tion of Luis Morones. This semi-secret group that controlled the Labor 
Party was destined for a very dubious role in the Mexican labor move- 

The most positive achievements of the regime were in education and 
in art. With the unusually large sum of money made available for these 
purposes, Jose Vasconcelos, Obregon's new Minister of Education, 
organized and launched Mexico's educational system. One of the most 


paradoxical figures in Mexican history, he created the ministry and gave 
it the basic form it retains today. His ultra-sensitive, even neurotic 
personality is reflected in his four-volume autobiography. 

During his pre- 1920 exile in Los Angeles, Vasconcelos had given a 
good deal of thought to public education, absorbing and improving 
on the ideas of Lunacharsky, the Soviet Commissar of Education. Vas- 
concelos's plan called for branches of the ministry in various parts of the 
country with three main departments: Schools, Libraries, and Fine Arts. 
The last-named department included all teaching of music, drawing, and 
physical training in schools, universities, the Academy, the National 
Museum, and the conservatories of music. Vasconcelos, who was essen- 
tially a poet rather than a professional educator, thought in Platonic 
terms rather than in the everyday realistic terms necessary for that period 
of building and rebuilding. In some ways he showed an astonishing- 
lack of practicality. Feeling that it was necessary not only to teach people 
to read but also to furnish worthy reading matter, he organized a publish- 
ing program to provide cheap editions of Plato, Cervantes, Dante, Euri- 
pides, and Homer. At a time when most people were not merely illiterate 
but also hungry, the first publication was a 'people's edition' of Plato. 

The story is told of an inspection trip made by Obregon and his cabinet 
into the north. In the backwoods the party lost its way, and the president 
asked an Indian and his wife where they were or what town they were 
near. When it appeared these good folk, born and brought up in that 
place, had no idea of where it was and were not especially concerned 
about their ignorance, Obregon turned to his Minister of Education and 
said: 'Jose, make a note of this man so that you can send him a complete 
edition of the classics you've just edited. 1 

Yet in rural education generally, if we compare Vasconcelos's ac- 
complishments with the vacuum of the centuries preceding, this period 
marks a tremendous forward step. Both roving and resident teachers were 
sent out, and within two and a half years schools were established in some 
of the most undeveloped parts of the country. Vasconcelos thought not 
in terms of an Indian problem but of the problem of ignorance, an 
ignorance made worse by the indifference of others. Because they started 
from absolute zero (no reading or writing materials in most places) and 
because of the opposition of the clergy and the 'know-nothings,' the 
missionary teachers were faced by the most difficult task imaginable and 
often were even attacked and killed. They are among the real heroes of 
modern Mexican history. As late as the end of the 'thirties, the active 
antagonism of the reactionaries resulted in a series of teacher murders. 

Although Vasconcelos's rural schools, like his art program, are an 
accepted feature of Mexican education today, he himself was ousted in the 

1 Verna Carleton Millan, Mexico Reborn, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 
!939> PP- 44^5- 

change-over from the Obregon to the Calles regime in 1924. As a pres- 
idential candidate, he campaigned unsuccessfully against the latter 
dictatorship in 1929. At that point he was still the great hope of the 
liberals and anticlericals, but his disappointment at the turn of events in 
Mexico (he has since frequently spoken of the 'failure of the Revolution') 
subsequently drove him into the arms of Mexico's reactionary clergy and 
toward an almost hysterical mysticism. 

Yet his contributions to the development of art in Mexico are just as 
important as those to education in general. In art, though the problem 
was primarily one of patronage and encouragement, there was also the 
question of a new approach. Previously, art students had received in- 
struction in the traditional academic way: cast drawings, vase drawings, 
copies of Murillo, and so on; and after some years the best students were 
sent abroad for further study. After five or more years in Europe without 
official supervision, they would return home, become teachers them- 
selves, and repeat this formula with their students. As painters they would 
do very few pictures, seldom more than one a year — the kind of merchan- 
dise that only the wealthy could buy. Since there were few of the latter, 
even fewer with a taste for art, and no dealers at all to sell pictures, there 
was no way for art to develop. 

Vasconcelos turned to a more popular form of art education and a 
more popular form of art, i.e. the mural, which presumably everyone 
could enjoy without special education or a great deal of money. To 
advance popular art education, Vasconcelos organized a department of 
drawing and handicrafts as well as a number of open-air schools for the 
general public. These schools were staffed by young artists, later well 
known: Carlos Merida, Manuel Rodriguez Lozano, Rufino Tamayo, 
Leopoldo Mendez, Antonio Ruiz, Julio Castellanos, Miguel Covarrubias, 
and others. From the open-air school at Coyoacan alone were produced 
such talents as Fernando Leal and Fermin Revueltas, who were among 
the leaders in the early mural movement. 

Even before Vasconcelos became Minister of Education and while he 
was President of the University of Mexico, he had commissioned Roberto 
Montenegro and Xavier Guerrero to paint murals in the former convent 
of San Pedro y San Pablo. This took place in June 1920, before Obregon 
took office. In this old church that had been converted into an annex of the 
Preparatory School, the works that are considered the first in the Mexican 
mural movement were done. With his appointment to Obregon's cabinet 
in December, Vasconcelos was in a better position to make available the 
walls and funds for the 'people's art' movement that got under way the 
following year, and to encourage artists such as Rivera and Siqueiros to 
return from Europe. 

In many ways 1921 was a turning point. In the only issue ever published 
of the periodical Vida Americana, David Alfaro Siqueiros in Barcelona 
proclaimed his now famous manifesto, which is often credited with 


crystallizing the mural movement in Mexico. 2 The theories first set forth 
in this magazine, and since repeated in many books and articles by the 
painter, stress the need for abandoning easel painting (which according 
to him had long outlived itself) in favor of the mural. Another important 
idea he advanced then and later was that the theme or subject of any 
painting was as important as the style of the picture — an attitude in direct 
conflict with abstract painting, which has always been a favorite target 
of his. Siqueiros felt that the picture should derive its 'emotion, design, 
construction, and color from the model,' which should not be chosen 
purely as a motif or, in his words, as an excuse 'to demonstrate artistic 

He felt, moreover, that the contemporary artist had to identify himself 
with the native tradition, through which he could regain (in terms of 
today's needs) the old simplicity, solid structure, and profound religious 
feeling. Toward these ends the older arts should be used merely as a 
point of departure, as a source of emotional and structural energy 
'without falling into lamentable archaeological reconstruction.' What he 
wanted was 'to create a monumental and heroic art, a human and public 
art, with the direct and living example of our great masters and the 
extraordinary cultures of pre-Hispanic America.' 

These ideas were applied by Siqueiros in his own painting from the 
time of his return to Mexico in 1922. Neither he nor Rivera was in Mexico 
while the stage was being set for the new movement, and Orozco, who 
was there, does not seem to have been especially active. But other artists 
and intellectuals were arriving from every quarter as the Revolution came 
to an end and reconstruction began. 

Jean Chariot, the part-Mexican painter from Paris, had developed 
ideas somewhat similar to Siqueiros's, and had done a number of murals 
in French churches. After his military service he came to Mexico in 1921, 
drawn by sympathy with the anticapitalist ideas of such liberal Catholics 
as Jacques Maritain and hoping to find an outlet for these feelings in the 
new Mexico. In addition to this Christian-socialist attitude, he approach- 
ed the new material with a fervor, a sensitive feeling for the culture of the 
country, and a technical flair that give him a high place among the 
pioneers of the movement. 

Carlos Merida, from Guatemala via Paris and New York, had his first 
show of Indian-inspired subjects in 1921. This was also the year of Best- 
Maugard's .4 Night in Mexico fair at Chapultepec Park. From Guadala- 
jara came Amado de la Cueva and Xavier Guerrero, both soon to be 
active on mural projects, as were Chariot and Merida. Another group 
returning from Europe included Carlos Orozco Romero, who was to help 
found a school of woodcut art in Guadalajara and later to be an out- 
standing easel painter. More important for the immediate history of the 

2 David Alfaro Siqueiros, El Muralismo Mexicano, Ediciones Mexicanas, S.A., 
Mexico, 1950. 


Mexican movement were the 1922 return of Siqueiros and the 1921 
arrival of Diego Rivera, which acted as a kind of catalyst. The other 
member of Mexico's 'big three,' Jose Clemente Orozco, had been in the 
United States from 1917 to 1919 and was just about to take his place in 
the movement. 

During this Obregon period the subsequently martyred governor of 
Yucatan, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, invited Vasconcelos, Rivera, and Best- 
Maugard to make a survey of the social and cultural needs of his state. 
Carrillo Puerto, himself a Maya Indian, had been aware of the oppression 
of the people since the time when Yaquis had been whipped to work on 
Yucatan plantations and Mayas completely peonized. He had translated 
the new Mexican constitution into the Maya language, and had preached 
from it to the Indians as though from some sacred text. For this he had 
been jailed and tortured almost to death. Taking an active part in the 
Revolution, Carrillo Puerto eventually became governor of Yucatan and 
tried to improve the condition of the Indians, the position of women, and 
to create roads, schools, and other necessities. During the confusion 
attendant on the election of Obregon's successor in 1923, he was taken 
prisoner by the reactionary supporters of de la Huerta and killed. 

The nativism symbolized by the career of Carrillo Puerto is paralleled 
on another plane by the already mentioned new system of art education, 
based on native art and founded by Best-Maugard. He showed how a few 
simple straight and curved lines were the basis of the rather elaborate 
Mexican ornament. This ornament, dominated by a basic spiral, he 
then proceeded to break down into seven fundamental elements. Since 
these things concerned everyday objects and their decoration, his pupils 
applied themselves with considerable understanding and enthusiasm. 
Partly because of this new system and partly because of the immediate 
pedagogic utility of art in all its forms, the enthusiasm for art became so 
great that other academic subjects were taught in terms of art expression. 

As the new director of the Department of Fine Arts, Dr. Atl made a 
systematic study of the popular arts of Mexico, adding his name to those 
of Roberto Montenegro, Manuel Rodriguez Lozano (who was to make 
a specialty of folk sculpture), Jorge Enciso, and many others — some of 
whom absorbed the influences from this material into their own art. In 
his official capacity Atl also chose the first walls for the painters to work on. 
He himself did a rather hasty series of murals in San Pedro y San Pablo, 
which, like the early 1920 job by Montenegro and Guerrero, soon deter- 
iorated very badly. The archindividualist in a group of individualists, Atl 
worked in a personal wax-crayon technique known as 'Atl color,' which, 
although effective in his innumerable easel landscapes of volcanoes, had 
no permanence when applied to walls (fig. 5). 

Having done this much for the Revolution and the art movement, 
Dr. Atl chose to drop out of the picture. During the 'twenties and 'thirties 
he wandered all over the world, continuing his studies of volcanoes and 


prolific writings. (His claim to have lived for six months inside the crater 
of Popocatepetl is not so unlikely as it may seem.) During World War II, 
disillusioned as was Vasconcelos with the direction of the Revolution, 
this former associate of Mussolini turned to fascism, publishing books and 
articles in support of that point of view. In 1943, when the Paricutin 
volcano erupted, Dr. Atl immediately hastened there and, to the grati- 
fication of the poor farmer whose fields had been destroyed, bought him 
out. On this site Atl produced 130 drawings, 11 paintings, and an 
enormous book dealing with the volcano. This material is now in the 
possession of the National Institute of Fine Arts. 

In July 1921 Rivera had arrived from Europe bringing a great re- 
volutionary enthusiasm, however theoretical, an agile mind, and a con- 
crete knowledge of painting, though not of fresco technique. No one in 
Mexico at that time knew very much about fresco. Those who came from 

dr. atl. Landscape, 1933. atl color. 



Europe originally (e.g. Chariot) or had been there studying (Rivera, 
Siqueiros, and so on) knew what frescoes looked like, but not how they 
should be done — with the possible exception of Chariot. The technique 
had to be rediscovered. 

When Montenegro, for example, received the 1920 commission for 
San Pedro y San Pablo, he took along young Xavier Guerrero as tech- 
nical assistant. Guerrero, an Aztec Indian from Coahuila, was the son 
of a master house painter, had actually handled brushes as a child, and 
had acquired some experience as an architectural draftsman. At fourteen 
he got a job in Guadalajara decorating the house of a rich farmer, and 
by sixteen was an experienced commercial muralist in the tradition of 
thousands of painted walls in Mexican homes and pulquerias (saloons that 
sell the native pulque). While painting a map mural in a hacienda, 
Guerrero had been surprised by a Revolutionary band and pressed into 

Working with Montenegro, he let the latter do the main part of the 
rear wall in oils, while he painted the rest (flowers, birds, and zodiacal 
decorations in the cupola) in tempera on a white plaster ground. When, 
late in 1921, Rivera received the commission for the first mural in the 
National Preparatory School, he inherited Guerrero from Montenegro. 
This mural in the auditorium, the Anfiteatro Bolivar, was done in en- 
caustic, a laborious and traditional wax technique, which Rivera had 
used in Spain. Here Guerrero was able to suggest various cheap and 
practicable materials. The work was done with the assistance of Merida, 
Chariot, and Guerrero, who ground the colors, incised the outlines on the 
cement, transferred details from drawings to the walls, and primed the 
wall with hot rosin at exactly the moment of painting. A touch of the 
blowtorch to the wall with each brushstroke solidified or crystallized the 
paint. The mural was finished in March 1923. Rivera's style at this point 
suggests the mosaics of Ravenna, whose gold background and haloes 
reappear in his rather formidable and pompous The Creation (fig. 6). In 
the handling of the necessary gold leaf, Guerrero's practical experience 
was again invaluable. 

In May 1922 Vicente Lombardo Toledano, then director of the Na- 
tional Preparatory School (the Preparatoria), commissioned a group of 
painters to decorate the walls of the school with murals: Jean Chariot, 
Ramon Alva de la Canal, Fermin Revueltas, Fernando Leal, and Fran- 
cisco Cahero. This somewhat unplanned commission, whose only require- 
ment was Mexican themes, resulted in a group of tentative and by no 
means Revolutionary works. Although nativist in theme, they show a 
consciousness of the Mexican past rather than present and a reliance on 
Renaissance decorative traditions and techniques. The subjects include 
Alva de la Canal's idealized Planting of the Cross by the Spaniards, Chariot's 
decorative and Uccello-like Fall of Tenochtitldn, Leafs picturesque Feast 
ofChalma, and Revueltas's stylized Allegory of the Virgin of Guadalupe. 


Yet with these rather self-conscious works, Mexican painting had 
taken an important forward step. It had moved from easel-painting 
Mexicanism like that of Herran to a publicly projected and monumental- 
ized nativism that was to be converted into a Revolutionary form of ex- 
pression. Rivera's contemporary Creation in the same building does not 
even have the merit of nativism to compensate for its pretentiousness. 
Only in his first panels in the Ministry of Education, begun in March 
1923, does he come abreast of the Mexicanist point of view. 

In the same way, technical procedures moved along hesitantly from 
the laborious encaustic methods of Rivera, Leal, Cahero, and Revueltas 
(as well as the initial Siqueiros murals somewhat later) to the wet-cement 
painting of Chariot and the fresco experiments of Alva de la Canal in the 
Preparatoria, of Guerrero in 1923 in the Ministry of Education, and of 
Montenegro in 1922 in San Pedro y San Pablo. The last-mentioned was 
Montenegro's second job in that building, the charming glorification of 
a Mexican workingman's holiday, The Feast of the Holy Cross. Here, 
masons and bricklayers are shown decorating the building on which they 
are working, with large ornate straw and floral crosses. As an occasion 
for depicting various native types (including a full-length portrait of 
Vasconcelos, which was later removed), this traditionally conceived 
work corresponds to the general level of the early paintings in the Pre- 
paratoria. Like most of those, it has a curiously inappropriate religious 

Although the question of who did the first true fresco may seem 
academic to the non-Mexican, it remains a bone of contention among 
many painters who have survived that epoch. Chariot apparently 
finished the first mural in the Preparatoria, but he was not the first to 
begin work there. This credit, as well as that for the first use of the 
traditional fresco medium, would seem to belong to Alva de la Canal, 
who has continued to paint a series of such works down to the present day. 
Chariot, on the other hand, though not so prolific, has done a certain 
number of aesthetically important works and has written a considerable 
number of significant books and articles on the Mexican movement. 

In September 1922 Siqueiros and de la Cueva arrived from Europe. 
The former began to paint at the Preparatoria on the staircase of the 
so-called Colegio Chico, first in encaustic and then in fresco. His first 
efforts, already dynamic in technique, show a Christ and an angel; only 
on the third try did he progress to a contemporary Revolutionary theme. 
Vet at this point he sparked the organization of the Syndicate of Technical 
Workers, Painters, and Sculptors. This trade union, created late in 1922, 
was introduced to the public through a ringing manifesto that carries 
the ideas and influence of Siqueiros. For the brief period of its existence, 
it became the focal point of mural activity in Mexico. Its later influence 
is equally important. The text of the manifesto has been translated as 

Social, Political and Aesthetic Declaration from the Syndicate of 
Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors to the indigenous races 
humiliated through centuries; to the soldiers converted into hangmen by 
their chiefs; to the workers and peasants who are oppressed by the rich; 
and to the intellectuals who are not servile to the bourgeoisie: 

We are with those who seek the overthrow of an old and inhuman 
system within which you, worker of the soil, produce riches for the over- 
seer and politician, while you starve. Within which you, worker in the 
city, move the wheels of industries, weave the cloth, and create with 
your hands the modern comforts enjoyed by the parasites and prostitutes, 
while your own body is numb with cold. Within which you, Indian 
soldier, heroically abandon your land and give your life in the eternal 
hope of liberating your race from the degradations and misery of centuries. 

Not only the noble labor but even the smallest manifestations of the 
material and spiritual vitality of our race spring from our native midst. 
Its admirable, exceptional and peculiar ability to create beauty — the art 
of the Mexican people — is the highest and greatest spiritual expression 
of the world-tradition which constitutes our most valued heritage. It is 
great because it surges from the people; it is collective, and our own 
aesthetic aim is to socialize artistic expression, to destroy bourgeois in- 

We repudiate the so-called easel art and all such art which springs 
from ultra-intellectual circles, for it is essentially aristocratic. 

We hail the monumental expression of art because such art is public 

We proclaim that this being the moment of social transition from a 
decrepit to a new order, the makers of beauty must invest their greatest 
effort in the aim of materializing an art valuable to the people, and our 
supreme objective in art, which is today an expression for individual 
pleasure, is to create beauty for all, beauty that enlightens and stirs to 
struggle. 3 

In the organization of the Syndicate, Siqueiros had the key post of 
executive secretary, Rivera acted as a kind of foreign minister, Guerrero 
worked on organization problems, and Leal conducted the treasury. 
Orozco also became affiliated with the Syndicate but in an inactive 
capacity. In addition to his other duties, Guerrero assumed responsibil- 
ity for the Syndicate's newspaper El Machete (The Scythe). Its slogan was 
printed on the first page near a woodcut illustration of a machete: 

The machete is used to reap cane 

To clear a path through the underbrush 

To kill snakes, end strife 

And humble the pride of the impious rich. 

3 Guillermo Rivas, in "David Alfaro Siqueiros,' Mexican Life, Dec. 1935. A 
more literal translation is available in Anita Brenner's classic Idols behind 
Altars, Payson & Clarke, Ltd., X.Y., 1929. 


This forthrightly leftist sheet was printed in red and black and was set 
up so that it could be used as a poster. It was pasted on walls at street 
corners and other strategic spots where its large-scale woodcuts could be 
seen by all, and was usually put up just before dawn by Guerrero and 
Siqueiros (who were also chiefly responsible for its art work). El Machete 
survived the Syndicate itself by many years, and continued to appear long 
after the group was dissolved in 1925. 

The various painting jobs of the Syndicate were done on a contract 
basis determined by the size of the mural or murals involved. Both 
master painter and master mason worked an eight-hour day; each was 
paid an average of about eight pesos per diem (the peso then was worth 
about two cents). The first contract was signed toward the end of 1922, 
although most of the members were already at work on pre-Syndicate 
jobs, as we have indicated. In March of 1923 the new Ministry of Educa- 
tion building (the Secretaria) was turned over to Syndicate artists. 
Rivera was to do the first court; the second was to be a joint job for de 
la Cueva, Guerrero, and Chariot. March 1923 also marks the completion 
of the Rivera mural in the Preparatoria, the turgid Creation. To celebrate 
this event a party was organized, with Rivera, Vasconcelos, and Lom- 
bardo Toledano (then director of the Preparatoria) as the guests of honor. 
Assistants on this pioneer project, as listed on the humorous orange- 
colored invitation sheet, had been Xavier Guerrero, Carlos Merida, 
Juan (sic) Chariot, Amado de la Cueva, and Luis Escobar. One of its 
most striking features was the great affection and respect felt for Rivera 
at that time. 

As it actually turned out, the Ministry of Education building ultimate- 
ly became Rivera's private preserve (again with the technical aid of 
Guerrero, who had gone to Teotihuacan to learn how the ancients had 
done fresco) . When Rivera finished the ground floor of his own patio in 
1924, the rest of the building was turned over to him. In the larger 
courtyard Chariot had completed three panels, among the best he ever 
produced, one of which was removed by Rivera to make way for his own 
composition. In this same courtyard, near the panel of Chariot, are two 
by Amado de la Cueva. With the exception of these few sections, the 
Montenegro office paintings, and the 1923 Merida decorations in the 
Children's Library, the Ministry is a monument to the industry and 
shrewdness of Rivera. This situation was also due in part to the change of 
administration in 1924, which brought the artistic Revolution to a 
temporary halt. 

In the Preparatoria, which Rivera had abandoned for the greener 
fields of the Ministry of Education, the others continued to work. These 
included Siqueiros, Revueltas, Alva de la Canal, Leal, Emilio Amero, 
and the newcomer Jose Clemente Orozco. The last-named was assigned 
three rows of corridor panels as well as the remaining space on the main 
stairway, where Chariot and Leal had painted their panels. Siqueiros 


chose to continue on the dark little stairway of the Colegio Chico, con- 
tributing his magnificent Burial of a Worker. 

Orozco began his work with a number of religious and allegorical 
themes: the effective if traditional Maternity, the eccentric Spring with its 
enormous nude sweeping downward (later completely removed by the 
artist), and the Christ Destroying His Own Cross (subsequently removed by 
Orozco except for the head of the Christ). When Orozco had about 
completed these and the slightly later The Rich Banquet while the Workers 
Quarrel, a number of eager church ladies of the Damas Catolicas, who 
proposed to hold a church party in the patio, demanded that he 'tempor- 
arily' remove what seemed to them caricatures of religion. The Christ 
Destroying His Own Cross and the nude Madonna and Child of the Mater- 
nity, perhaps objectionable on religious grounds, could not conveniently 
be removed, such being the nature of fresco. The good ladies therefore 
proceeded to action, nailing flags, branches, and garlands on the walls 
(thereby marring the paintings) and earning for themselves immortality 
in Orozco's later violent caricatures on the second floor. 

These caricatures were done early in 1924, during the last hectic weeks 
of Orozco's assignment in the Preparatoria, just before the Obregon re- 
gime came to an end. Orozco and others were 'terminated' from the 
government payroll by the incoming Calles administration. The direct 
action of the women against Orozco's works was a symptom of the rising 
tide of reaction. The battle for and against the murals raged hot and 
heavy, with the Minister of Education under strong pressure from the 
conservatives for 'wasting the public's money.' Broadsides from embattled 
members of the Syndicate did not improve the climate. The climax was 
reached in June of that year as students of the Preparatoria (the children 
of conservatives) attacked the murals physically, scratching and scraping 
them and writing childishly obscene words wherever they could reach. 
Some of Orozco's caricature murals on the second floor were mutilated 
almost up to the necks of the figures, and his sympathetic St. Francis 
was badly damaged. Siqueiros's work, too, suffered from these attacks, 
the marks of which are still visible. 

The young vandals, much praised by the reactionaries, 'could not be 
found' by the not too eager police. Only after a considerable number of 
foreign residents had petitioned the government, pointing out that art 
is 'an international property,' were any steps taken to protect the murals. 
But the work in the Preparatoria was definitely over, at least for the time 
being. As the new president and cabinet came in, Vasconcelos and his 
program were automatically out. The new Minister of Education is 
quoted by Miss Brenner as saying: 'The first thing I'll do is whitewash 
those horrible frescoes.' 

Over at the Ministry of Education, where Rivera reigned, the situation 
was somewhat different. At the height of the trouble he had armed himself 
and his assistants with pistols, a flamboyant and characteristic gesture, 


in view of the fact that nothing had been painted there that could give 
offense. The group ideals of the Syndicate were apparently forgotten by 
Rivera, who refused to extend any help to his colleagues in difficulty less 
than a block away in the Preparatoria. 

Of all the available painters, only two were retained by the new 
ministry: the elegant Roberto Montenegro, who continued his work 
in the church of San Pedro y San Pablo, and the indefatigable Rivera, 
whose work in the Education building was to go on until 1928. Orozco 
retired to his suburban studio; de la Cueva and Siqueiros went to Jalisco 
to work on a commission from the governor of that state, although 
Siqueiros found himself doing more and more union work. Guerrero 
became editor of the increasingly Communistic El Machete, in opposition 
to the government. Revueltas was occupied with commercial work for 
United States gasoline stations, and later shifted to teaching in one of the 
open-air schools; Chariot turned to easel painting. By 1925 the Syndicate 
was disbanded, but its contribution had already been made. The idea 
of an art coming from and going to the people was to remain as a perma- 
nent goal of the modern Mexican movement. 


Diego Rivera 
Through 1924 


Most observers of Mexican art have long realized that Rivera is not 
the entire movement and that a good deal of his fame is due to his 
ability to create issues and to a phenomenal sense of publicity. Never- 
theless, though one may discount his endless self-promotion, flamboyance, 
and occasional opportunism, Rivera remains truly important as a 
historical figure. Reappearing in Mexico at the psychological moment, 
with the Revolution over and the culturo-political groundwork prepared, 
Rivera acted as a catalytic agent in the development of a new approach. 
His influence, for better or worse, has conditioned an entire school of 
Mexican painting through his various assistants and others who have 
felt the impact of his personality and the strong decorative simplicity 
of his work. 

The large simple forms and bold color areas of Rivera have contributed 
in no small way to the widespread popularity of his murals and easel 
paintings. They stand in strong contrast to the Expressionist and less 
'pleasant' forms of Orozco or the dynamic and overwhelming figures of 
Siqueiros. In this sense, Rivera's art is quite palatable and perhaps the 
closest thing to popular art that Mexico has produced in the field of 
painting. He has the further attraction, for the Mexican as for the 
foreigner, of an outstandingly didactic style which invites close examina- 
tion, as to a machine or the page of a manuscript. 

Whereas the forms themselves are self-explanatory, the content is 
generally far less so. For the Mexican peasant and worker, to whom his 
art is presumably consecrated, Rivera is not always understandable 
without additional help. For the perhaps more literate visitor who can 
afford guide books and-or guides, a visit to such murals as those in the 
National Palace or the Palace of Fine Arts opens a vista of titillating and 
'interesting' political subjects such as Marxism, imperialism, the role of 
the proletariat, and so on — a distant and safe view of social problems. 
What must be kept in mind, in spite of the apparent simplicity of form 
and expository quality, is that this is not the work of a naive individual. 
Rivera is a highly complex and sophisticated person, who, after all his 
experience of the school of Paris and the modern movement, deliberately 
set about creating the 'art for the people' demanded by the post-Rev- 
olutionary situation in Mexico. 


Among the earliest artistic influences on the career of Diego Rivera, 
a number of things stand out. First are the commercial rather than 
artistic saloon decorations known as pulqueria paintings, especially 
panoramic types such as The Battle of Waterloo. This childhood favorite of 
his might be said to prefigure some of his later large-scale many-figured 
works. As a boy Diego was also interested in the painted facades with 
large figures in the part of Mexico City where his family lived. In this 
same neighborhood also there was the shop of Vanegas Arroyo, where 
the engravings of Posada were hand-colored. From these three sources one 
may possibly deduce Rivera's later interest in panoramic art, decorative 
figures, and narrative and critical ideas. 

Born in 1886 (at Guanajuato), Diego showed a flair for drawing as a 
child, and was entered in the Academy of San Carlos at the age of ten. 
From 1896 to 1907 he studied there under the classicist Santiago Rebull, 
the brilliant landscapist Jose Maria Velasco, Jose Salome Pina, and 
Felix Parra, the first Mexican painter to use Maya and Aztec material. 
During this period also Rivera came to know the work of Posada. In 
1907, thanks to a prize donated by the governor of Vera Cruz, the twenty- 
one-year-old Rivera went to Europe to continue his studies. 

After contact with so-called Spanish realism and travel in Belgium, 
Holland, and England, he settled down in Paris in 1909. There he 
showed at the Independents and was influenced by Cezanne. Except for 
a few months in Mexico during 1910 (he witnessed the outbreak of the 
Revolution), Diego stayed in Europe until 1921, primarily in Paris. He 
participated in the Autumn Salon of 1911, came under the influence of 
neo-Impressionism, and showed a number of pictures in that technique 
at the Independents of 1912. 

Perhaps Rivera's most important works from those years are the many 
Cubist pictures, begun in 1913, which may be compared very favorably 
with those of other masters in that style. But Cubism as such apparently 
did not satisfy him for long, and he absorbed influences from other 
French formalistic sources: Renoir, Gauguin, and once again Cezanne. 
With Siqueiros, who had come over in 1919 after a long series of Re- 
volutionary experiences, Rivera discussed the need for transforming 
Mexican art into a national and popular movement. His travels in Italy 
during 1920-21 brought him into contact with the masters of the Re- 
naissance and the Middle Ages (notably the fourteenth-century Sienese, 
the fifteenth-century Florentines, and the mosaicists of Ravenna) and 
with the new classicism of the postwar period. This modern Italian trend 
toward a more monumental and frozen conception of form (Frenchmen 
and Germans were also moving in that direction by 1920) is of great im- 
portance in the evolution of Rivera's style and that of some other Mexican 
painters. In 1921, on the invitation of Vasconcelos, Rivera returned to 
Mexico to fulfill his role in the new movement. 

His first Mexican mural in the Anfiteatro Bolivar of the Preparatory 


School, begun in 1922 and finished in March 1923, 1 was done in the slow 
and laborious encaustic technique. This is The Creation, with its half- 
religious, half-philosophical content, its sentimental expression and 
meaningless gestures. The figure of Christ in the niche (with evangelist 
symbols) grows out of a kind of Tree of Life, while on the arched surface 
around the niche allegorical figures of humanistic intent are symmetric- 
ally placed. On top the artist has indicated a star-studded mystic circle 
from which symbolic hands point to Tragedy, Science, Fortitude, and 
Temperance at the right, and Music, Comedy, and the Dance at the 
left (fig. 6). These two groups are arranged behind a nude male figure 
and a nude female figure respectively and are capped by a number of 
gold-haloed virtues on each side. One may compare this work in its 
general religious character with the early murals of Rivera's contempor- 
aries, but there are neither the realistic nor the social implications of the 
others at that time and nothing to offend the conservatives. 

Although it is believed that Rivera had intended to decorate the 
auditorium further with the history of thought, including Marx and 
Engels, The Creation must stand as his contribution at this juncture of the 
movement. It may be looked upon as a blend of contemporary European 
neo-Classical tendencies, with the drawing of the Renaissance and the 
gold backgrounds and haloes of Byzantine art. In color, it is lamentably 
weak; as pictorial expression, it is a low point in Rivera's career. 

Only after Diego's trip to Yucatan and other parts of Mexico, where 
he saw native life and made many sketches, did his art turn toward the 
contemporary. The new Diego is seen in his extensive murals for the 
then newly built Ministry of Education, where he was to work from 1923 
to 1928, with interruptions for the simultaneous job at Chapingo and his 
1927 visit to the Soviet Union. 

The Ministry, or Secretaria, is divided into two three-storied patios. 
The smaller one constitutes Rivera's so-called Court of Labor and the 
larger one (originally intended for Chariot, de la Cueva, and Guerrero) 
his Court of Festivals. With the exception of two panels each by Amado 
de la Cueva and Jean Chariot in the second patio, all of this area con- 
tains the work of Rivera and his assistants. 

The decoration of the Secretaria began with Rivera (assisted by Gue- 
rrero) working in the smaller patio, while Chariot and de la Cueva began 
their painting in the larger. At the same time, Montenegro was assigned 
the main office on the third floor and Merida the Children's Library, which 
he decorated with a pleasant fairy-tale series. When Rivera finished his 
court, he found that Chariot and de la Cueva had been able to complete 
only five panels between them. This factor, together with Rivera's claim 
that their work did not harmonize with his and the general reactionary 
trend in 1924, led to the assignment of the second patio also to Rivera. 

1 Jean Chariot, 'Renaissance Revisited,' Magazine of Art, vol. 39, no. 2, Feb. 



rivera. The Creation, detail, encaustic. 



What was later called the Court of Labor began with a group of rather 
tentative decorations inspired by the picturesque women of Tehuantepec. 
The two panels showing large-scale but flatly executed if exotic Tehuan- 
tepec women are not much improvement over The Creation either in 
composition or in mural technique. After a brief interval the colon began 
to deteriorate, and subsequent repairs have not helped too much. Presum- 
ably at this point Guerrero, in his capacity as technical advisor, went to 
the Teotihuacan archaeological site to compare his own experiments in 
so-called fresco with the methods used by the ancients. After a number 
of attempts he worked out a method that Rivera could use, but un- 
fortunately Guerrero suggested the use of nopal juice as an agglutinating 
medium — apparently in the belief that this had been the method of the 
pre-Spanish Indians. Although this detail naturally appealed to the 
nativists of the moment, it did not make for good fresco. The juice of the 
nopal plant would not be absorbed into the body of the plaster and 
remained as a surface irritant. It prevented the evaporation of water from 
the wet plaster and caused innumerable tiny paint blisters to form, thus 
clouding the colors. This difficulty applies to all the murals in the Court 
of Labor. 

The south wall of the patio shows the industries of southern Mexico: 
weaving, dyeing, cane growing, and sugar refining. On the north side 
the artist illustrates the northern industries: iron mining, ranching — and 
Revolution. The eastern wall is dedicated to the industries of central 
Mexico: silver mining, corn, wheat, and pottery. 

With the transition from the purely picturesque Women of Tehuantepec 
to scenes of industry, Rivera finally enters the arena of social-minded art. 
There are not only pictures of people at work but clear references to pre- 
Revolutionary abuses as well as to post-Revolutionary hopes. They are 
not merely photographic representations, for a great many of the panels 
show the beneficial influence of post-Impressionist (especially Gauguin) 
space composition and form abstraction. As design, they are far superior 
to the Creation mural in the Preparatoria or the first experiments with 
the women of the south. In The Weavers the lines of the threads and the 
frames have been arranged into a pattern whose counterpoint is in the 
cylindrical bobbins of the foreground. The ensemble is unified by dif- 
ferent tonalities of blue. 

The subsepuent panels show an even clearer patterning. Human forms 
are reduced to linear silhouettes integrated into planear arrangements 
with one space area superposed on another in a manner that brings to 
mind the painting of Gauguin. Thus The Dyers, The Sugar Refiners, the 
Descent into the Mine, and so on, show stylized forms against simplified 
landscape or architectural elements. The enclosing space is controlled 
and limited in accordance with the Cezanne-Gauguin idea. None of these 
pictures is concerned with emotions, personalities, or even ideals, Revo- 
lutionary or otherwise. This aesthetic decorative conception of labor 


rivera. Iron Foundry, fresco. 


PHOTO C.I NTRAI. 1)1- l'l'HI.ICAC :ION l-.S 

is illustrated in the Iron Foundry of the north wall (fig. 7). Here the empha- 
sis is on organization of geometrical solids, which are slightly distorted in 
form and position to accommodate them to the painter's design concept. 
A significant departure is made in a group of panels that brings in a 
more dynamic and emotional point of view, as Rivera introduces a num- 
ber of pre-Revolutionary abuses as well as political and idealistic themes. 
The well-known Weighing of the Grain, with its surly hacendado standing 
over a number of bent peons, is paralleled by the symbolically presented 
Exit from the Mine (fig. 8). Here the stylized and anonymous peasant, his 
arms raised as though for a crucifixion, is being searched by the equally 
anonymous foreman. The worker's head is fitted into the outline of the 
background mountains, one arm into the mountain at the left and the 
other aimed toward the tops of the posts at the right. His figure continues 
the pattern of the base of the panel, which is dominated by the triangular 
mine exit. At the same time his head forms part of an oval which includes 




rivera. Exit from the Mine, fresco, ministry of education, Mexico city. 


the landscape sweep at the right, the bent backs of the two men at his 
side, and the curve of the hole below. This simple but effective device ties 
together background and foreground in a post-Impressionist manner. 

A more idealistic and post-Revolutionary series of themes includes the 
symbolic Worker and Peasant shown embracing in religious fashion (evok- 
ing the Italian fourteenth century) and the often reproduced The New 
School (fig. 9). The latter is a gentle and even touching tribute to the ideals 
of the educational campaign initiated shortly after the Revolution. The 
panel presents a group of people of all ages grouped about their teacher, 
who reads to them from a book as a mounted soldier keeps watch. In the 
middlcground peasants toil in the fields; farther back a pair of figures 
building a house forms the apex of a semicircle which moves left and right 
from that point and again unifies background and foreground. The 
mounted soldier acts as a link between the oval in the foreground and this 
semicircle. The hills sweeping down to the left are balanced by lines 
moving to the right and into the foreground. 

rivera. The New School, fresco. 




Here also we may notice a henceforth typical Rivera figure, a diminu- 
tive small-nosed Mexican with globular head, round shoulders, and 
ovoid torso. This creation of Rivera is not based on the actual physical 
appearance of the average Mexican, but is again an aesthetic formula, 
here apparently derived from Duccio and his fourteenth-century con- 
temporaries. One is reminded of the early Renaissance not only in this 
physical type, which becomes standard for Rivera, but in his massing 
of large groups of people, as in the May Day and Distribution of the Land 
(both in the next patio) or the later Burial of a Proletarian Victim. 

In these and similar works the painter arranges his many figures in 
superposed rows rather than directly behind one another, so that after 
the foreground row of full-length forms, only heads appear as the eye 
moves backward through this arbitrarily controlled space. Crowds such 
as these [May Day, Distribution of the Land, Burial of Proletarian Victim, Day 
of the Dead, and so forth) suggest the groupings at either side of the 
Madonna in the Duccio Majestas in Siena — even to the shape of the 
faces — while the movement of the crowds on the back of that altarpiece 
offers an even closer parallel to Rivera's massed figures. 

In the Court of Labor, working under the stimulus of the first flush of 
the reconstruction period and his own increasing concern with political 
matters, Rivera made a number of direct and forceful statements. 
Together with his later Chapingo murals, they constitute perhaps his 
finest work. Yet however successful these panels are as decorations and 
abstractions in the modern sense, they do not have the degree of monu- 
mentality already evident in the early works of Orozco and Siqueiros. In 
the second patio of the Secretaria, done at the beginning of the Calles 
period, this difference in orientation becomes even more evident. There 
Rivera moves on to a consistently coloristic and decorative scheme. He 
concentrates increasingly on large masses of figures disposed as much for 
their picturesque possibilities as for their social significance. 



lose Clemente Orozco 
Through 1924 

In spite of a charmingly written autobiography 1 and innumerable anec- 
dotes and accounts by contemporaries, Orozco the man remains a 
shadowy figure when compared with either Siqueiros or Rivera. Yet 
even without the urbane personality advantages of those two painters or 
their cosmopolitan experience, Orozco emerges as the towering figure 
of the Mexican school. His art is based on a personally evolved form of 
Expressionism stemming from his deep sympathies for the miserable and 
oppressed. Neither self-conscious polemics nor programmatic political 
attitudes have ever affected his point of view. Orozco's work remains at 
all times the sensitive, even mystic reaction of an individual to the 
inequities and weaknesses of his environment. 

If his painting is less readily understandable than that of Rivera, it is 
because of his profound belief that what the artist says is peculiar to the 
artist and not to the writer, politician, or propagandist. He has said of his 
own art: 'My one theme is humanity; my one tendency is emotion to 
a maximum; my means the real and integral representation of bodies 
in themselves and in their interrelation.' 2 Without a specific political 
point of view, his art is in many ways the most penetrating expression of 
the suffering that characterized the Revolution and its aftermath. 

Justino Fernandez, the distinguished analyst of Orozco's work, has 
said: 'Above the Periclean tradition and above the materialistic environ- 
ment of our times, Orozco's work rises as a gigantic protest against inertia 
of conscience and human degradation, against dishumanization and 
affirming a genuine human existence.' 3 Orozco appears not only as the 
outstanding painter of the modern Mexican school — and the finest essence 
of its spirit — but also, through his unique quality as an artist, as one of the 
leading figures of our century. 

Orozco was born in Zapotlan, state of Jalisco, in 1883; his family 
moved to Mexico City in 1888. The young man at first intended to be an 

1 Jose Clemente Orozco, Autobiografia, Eds. Occidente, Mexico, 1945. 

2 Jean Chariot, Art from the Mayans to Disney, Sheed & Ward, N.Y., London, 


3 Justino Fernandez, 'El pintor de nuestro tiempo,' Anales del institute de 
invest igaciones esteticas, no. 16, 1948. 


agronomist; he spent four years studying agricultural engineering, and 
took his degree in 1899. A few years later he studied mathematics and 
architectural drawing at the Preparatoria (1904-8), and then took oc- 
casional art courses at the Academy of San Carlos from 1908 to 1914. 
There he acquired the solid academic drawing of his first 'classical' 
period. Other early influences on Orozco's art include the atmosphere 
of the big city, the work of Posada with its bold caricature quality and 
vivid color effects, and finally the events of the Revolution from 1910 on. 

Orozco first exhibited in a 1910 Academy group show commemorating 
the 1810 revolt from Spain. Here he offered caricatures and other com- 
positions. 4 These no longer extant works were probably similar in style 
to a series done in 191 1-12 for El Ahuizote during the Madero administra- 
tion. In spite of the anti-Madero character of this paper, Orozco (ac- 
cording to his own account) was not yet affected by the Revolution one 
way or another. As he himself has pointed out, he could just as well have 
done pro-Madero caricatures at this stage. 

Orozco next appears in the tragic days following the assassination of 
Madero in 1913 and the ensuing brutal dictatorship of Huerta. According 
to the well-known interview with Jose Juan Tablada, 5 Orozco was then 
making sketches of women. In this account the painter is quoted by 
Tablada as saying that ' . . . nowadays he paints exclusively women, 
limiting himself to college girls and prostitutes.' Although there is no hint 
of the bloody events of those days in the delicately tinted watercolors, 
there is nevertheless a clear enough criticism of mankind in general. It is 
not accidental that so little difference appears between the simpering and 
provocative schoolgirls and the rapacious and greedy or melancholy and 
bored types in the bordello pictures. The latter range from the mordant 
irony of the light-blue Despoiling (fig. 10) to more somber and even tragic 
scenes that symbolize the fatalistic misery of Mexico. 

Here one already sees the genesis of Orozco's social caricatures, a mode 
based on the typical macabre humor of the Mexicans exemplified by 
Posada and emerging in Orozco's Preparatoria murals of 1923-4 and 
many later easel paintings and graphics. Throughout his career he 
returns to the prostitute theme, not in any cynical metropolitan sense 
but rather as a Dostoyevskian symbol of the corruption and weakness, the 
sadness and isolation of the individual. Thus the wretched figures lurking 
in doorways — black shadows of despair (as in the 1946 Waiting Women, 
owned by Dr. Carrillo Gil) — or the obscene creature on her back in the 
Bellas Artes mural of 1934, all are taken from everyday life and con- 
verted into symbols of reality in terms of Orozco's 'one theme . . . 


4 Jean Chariot, 'Orozco's Stylistic Evolution,' College Art Journal, vol. IX, 
no. 2, 1949-50. 

5 Jose Juan Tablada, 'Un pintor de la mujer: Jose Clemente Orozco,' El 
Mundo Ilustrado, 9 Nov. 191 3. 


In 1914 Huerta fled, making way for the three-cornered scramble for 
the presidency between Carranza, Zapata, and Villa. Orozco, under the 
influence of his friend Dr. Atl, followed Carranza in the famous retreat 
from the capital to Orizaba. At Orizaba, Orozco's Revolutionary im- 
pressions were further enriched by scenes involving the summary exe- 
cution of Zapatistas and the looting of churches. From this period come 
the drawings he did for La Vanguardia, a paper produced throughout 1915 
to encourage the Carranza forces at a bad moment in their careers. 

In these drawings the style is simpler and more effective than in those 
of 1911-12, with their cross-hatchings and soft washes. Now a thick 
twisting powerful line is applied sparingly but with great effect. The 
drawings are generally attacks on Huerta or on Villa's puppet president, 
Gonzales Garza, caricatures of conservative ladies and clerics, or some- 
what obvious efforts to cheer up his own side with pictures of attractive 
and brave women who are shown helping their men, waiting for them 
to return, and so on. 


orozco. The Despoiling, watercolor. Mexico city, coll. dr. a. carrillo gil. 

difil auwjt*** 

1 1 

The year 1915 saw Carranza winning his way back into the capital, 
a process that furnished new Revolutionary impressions for a disillusioned 
Orozco. He now witnessed, among other excesses, the sacking of one 
of Mexico's churches under the leadership of his political and artistic 
mentor, Dr. Atl. 

Orozco's drawing technique during this entire Revolutionary period 
seems to have been based on the deliberately nonacademic practice of 
avoiding the standing model and preferring the model in motion, whose 
movements are stored up for future reference. In a May 1916 group ex- 
hibition the artist showed drawings of prostitutes and schoolgirls, political 
and anticlerical caricatures, and a number of strong symbolic drawings. 6 
In, September 1916 he had his first one-man show in Mexico City with 
the same feminine subjects and political cartoons (some apparently anti- 
Carranza now). He also exhibited two sketches for his 1915 oil painting, 
San Juan de Ulua Evacuated by Spanish Troops in 1822, his first government 
commission. Apparently the famous Mexico in Revolution wash drawings, 
which are generally dated between 1913 and 1917, did not yet exist, since 
they do not appear in this show. The unpleasant reception of this ex- 
hibition discouraged Orozco to such a degree that for the next few years 
he was relatively inactive, and for a while left Mexico. 

From 1917 to 1919 he was in California working as a photo finisher 
and enlarger. According to the painter's autobiography, on leaving the 
country he was stopped at the border by United States customs officials 
who confiscated and destroyed a number of his watercolors. Orozco con- 
sidered this an 'immoral' act and apparently never forgave the northern 
republic. 7 As late as 1922, he had not yet begun to paint specifically 
Revolutionary material. Tablada, in a January 1923 article in Inter- 
national Studio magazine, and the United States critic Walter Pach, 
writing in Mexico Moderno in October 1922, both speak of the same 
feminine material and cartoons mentioned previously. 8 

In June 1923 Orozco began to work on the frescoes in the Preparatoria. 
Here, like his fellow painters, he went through a period of experimentation 
both with the medium and with the subjects to be employed, and also 
utilized a literary and semireligious type of theme in the name of Rev- 
olutionary painting. In Orozco's case there is the additional impact of 
Dr. Atl's influence toward the grandiose and allegorical. In the Annex of 

6 Chariot, op. cit. p. 151. 

7 Orozxo, op. cit. p. 60. There appears to be some uncertainty about the 
date of this incident. Chariot and others give 1919 as the date; Chariot speaks 
of a 1 gig trip to the United States in the article mentioned above. Orozco 
himself mentions meeting Siqueiros in New York that year (when the latter 
was leaving for Europe with his wife), although he gives the impression that he 
arrived there from San Francisco. Professor Fernandez in his introduction to 
the catalogue of the Carrillo Gil collection gives ig 17-18 as the United States 

8 Chariot, op. cit. 


the National Preparatory School (the former convent of San Pedro y San 
Pablo) Atl had done a series of large-scale nudes of men and women as 
well as a number of landscapes symbolizing the forces of nature: Rain, 
Wind, the Night, the Sun, and the Moon. The most impressive was the 
gigantesque The Man Who Came from the Sea, a heavy-muscled, beetle- 
browed giant advancing from the water, his powerful hands beginning 
to move forward as though about to grapple with the world. (Dr. Atl's 
murals no longer exist.) 

Orozco's first fresco experiments in the Preparatoria seem to have 
been influenced by Atl's point of view, and even his 1925 mural in the 
House of Tiles (now Sanborn's) in Mexico City is affected by this 
gigantism. Of the original Orozco studies only two remain as they were 
painted. The poetic Maternity (fig. 11) shows a giant seated female nude 
holding a child and surrounded by flying nymphs that suggest Botticelli's 
Birth of Venus. At the opposite end of this ground-floor corridor is the 
caricature mural The Rich Banquet while the Workers Quarrel. The first work 
emphasizes the relationship between Orozco and the traditions of the 
early Renaissance, first Giotto and then Piero della Francesca. The 
second work represents the native clement in his painting, the local 
graphic caricature quality that combines the sardonic and the tragic. 
The monumental and the graphic sides of his art are blended in many 
later and more successful efforts. During this early period, however, 
and through the second phase at the Preparatoria in 1926, the 'classical' 
quality predominates. 

The somewhat fanciful classicism of the Maternity, like the powerful 
hands of The Rich Banquet, is to be attributed to Atl's influence, which also 
existed in other panels of this time that were changed or obliterated later. 
These included the Spring with its huge downward-plunging nude 
(removed entirely), the Masaccio-like Christ Destroying His Cross (removed 
except for the head of Christ, later incorporated into The Strike), and the 
so-called Trinity (one figure substituted, one changed, the third re- 
maining). The Revolutionary material in this corridor dates from 1926, 
when Orozco received his second opportunity to paint in this building: 
The Trench, Destruction of the Old Order, The Strike, and the reconstituted 
Trinity. 9 

Of the panels done in 1923 and apparently still on the walls as late as 
1 925-6, 10 there is in general a self-conscious striving for effect in a medium 
by no means conquered at this point. The caricature nature of The Rich 
Banquet is far removed from good mural quality; the upside-down figure 
in The Spring is exaggerated in the Atl sense; the powerful nude woman 

9 Chariot, op. cit. p. 152. 

1,1 Rosendo Salazar, in his 'socialist' Mexico en Pensamiento y en Action, Avante, 
Mexico, 1926, reproduces these murals and the Atl works of the Annex, 
mentioned above. See also the monograph by Clementina Diaz y de Ovando 
on El Colegio Maximo de San Pedro y San Pablo, Universidad de Mexico, 1951. 


in the Maternity prefigures Orozco's effectiveness at a slightly later date, 
but the rest of the composition is confused. 

As for the Trinity, its original 1923 form (reproduced in Salazar's 1926 
book 11 ) showed a 'Scientist' with T-squares and drawing paper and a 
knobby-handed Worker holding tools and raising his battered face 
toward the symbol of Revolution. The muscles in this work are as exag- 
gerated as in other panels of the period. In spite of the somewhat literal 

11 Ibid. 


orozco. Maternity, fresco, national preparatory school, Mexico city. 


symbolism, this painting is apparently the first reference to the Revolution 
in Orozco's murals, though the element of symbolic suffering, the agony 
of war and plunder, does not appear for some time. Like The Rich Banquet, 
also done in 1923, this panel indicates a disillusioned attitude, and reflects 
the oncoming end of the brief period of Revolutionary bliss, when op- 
portunism and factionalism would change the entire direction of the 

Although Orozco has been quoted as claiming the present version of 
the Trinity (fig. 12) for the period before his dismissal in August 1924, 
the mural as it exists now belongs stylistically and spiritually to the next 
period of Mexican art under Galles, when these tendencies toward dis- 
illusionment and reaction were clearly in view. But it preserves the basic 
composition of the original and offers evidence of Orozco's transition from 
a tentative and strained expression toward a more symbolic and monu- 
mental attitude. The Trinity in its final 1926 form is a more concentrated 
and stronger version of the 1923 panel. Preserving only the central 
symbol of Revolution with its own red banner blinding it, the painter has 
changed the worker at the right, showing him without hands — in effect, 
betrayed. For the rather static Scientist at the left he has substituted an 
anonymous suppliant peasant placed back-to-back with the mutilated 
worker. This peasant, whose block-like form and costume may be seen 
in other panels of the time, is apparently drawn after one of Orozco's 
chief models during this second Preparatoria phase, the painter's own 
master mason (cf. figs. 12, 32). 

The result of these changes is a more monumental arrangement which 
raises the Revolution on a kind of pedestal formed by the two bodies. 
The painting is also a clarification of the original disillusionment into 
frank betrayal. This is the path Orozco was to follow toward the classical 
works of 1926. 

In the meantime, there came the affair with the Damas Catolicas and 
the student attack in June 1924, which resulted in the defacing of Orozco's 
work. As retaliation, in the last few weeks before the enforced stoppage 
of the Preparatoria paintings in August, Orozco executed a number of 
violent caricature murals on the floor directly above the first series. Among 
these, the Justice and the Law shows a bloody and drunken female figure, 
- .bandage down on one eye, waving her scales with one arm, the other 
about the shoulders of an ugly-looking politician. In the Final Judgment, 
a cross-eyed Father God is flanked by a group of overdressed bourgeois, 
the 'saved,' while on the other side is a group of miserable poor, the 
'damned.' Above these creatures a leering old hag, Liberty, is supported 
on golden cords. Farther on, the artist shows a rich man stabbed in the 
back and then a heap of symbolic objects, the Social and Political Junk 
Heap, the latter including at this early date a Nazi swastika. The panel 
immediately to the right is perhaps the most effective scene of this second 
floor corridor — two skinny hands emerging from ragged sleeves and 


rozco. The Trinity (The Revolutionary Trinity), fresco, national preparatory school, Mexico city. 


dropping coins into a locked church box, under which a fat ring- 
covered hand is placed to catch the coins as they come through. The 
final caricature, Reactionary Forces, shows fat and thin male and female 
snobbish figures walking with noses in the air and ignoring the tiny 
miserable creatures over whom they tread. 

However successful these panels may be as cartoons, they have little 
other quality (with the exception of the church scene). They are a 
mocking flare-up of Orozco's temper at that moment, his terrible dis- 
appointment at the treatment accorded him. Even if Orozco's con- 
tribution during this period is somewhat inconclusive, the future social 
critic and mystic, the humanitarian artist is already present in more 
than embryo. Within two years he would return to the Preparatoria to 
paint his first great works. 


David Alfaro Siqueiros 
Through 1924 


If the politics of Rivera reflect an opportunistic radicalism and those of 
Orozco a fatalism and negativism, the social attitudes of Siqueiros 
bespeak the highly individualistic Mexican approach to all problems, 
political or otherwise. Although he has been associated for many years 
with orthodox Communism and has been the author of many newspaper 
articles, books, and speeches on 'art for the masses,' his work remains 
essentially a personal expression. Where Rivera presents the picture of a 
Revolution realized or, failing that, the ideals of the Revolution, and 
Orozco its betrayals and deceits, Siqueiros rushes forward with a con- 
stant exhortation to fight. 

Unlike Rivera, whose disciples can still be counted by the score, or 
Orozco, who in spite of himself engendered a large number of followers, 
Siqueiros has no 'school.' The few who have attempted in recent years 
to follow in his wake have produced watery imitations of an art that 
depends primarily on the spectacular personality and fiery energy of its 

The career of Siqueiros used to be cited as a horrible example of what 
could happen when an artist became too involved in politics, but since 
the late 'thirties his reputation has constantly grown. Today he is the 
outstanding living muralist of Mexico, one of its few important easel 
painters, and also a significant world figure. At the 1950 Biennale in 
Venice he was awarded the second painting prize of 500,000 lire (the 
first prize went to Henri Matisse). Nor has this worldly success turned 
him from the political convictions which, whether one agrees with them or 
not, remain the basis of his existence and the driving force behind his art. 

Born in Chihuahua in 1896, Siqueiros was baptized Jose David. He 
lost his mother in 1898, and together with his older sister Luz and younger 
brother Jesus went to live with his paternal grandparents at Irapuato. 
There until 1906 he was under the influence of a grandfather who had 
been a colonel in one of the guerrilla Indian bands of Benito Juarez. 

In 1907 he came to Mexico City with his father, a profoundly religious, 
almost mystical person, who entered him in the parochial Colegio 
Franco-Ingles. The outbreak of the Revolution in 1910 awakened in 
him the first stirrings of discontent. Partly through the influence of his 
sister and partly in revolt against the monastic character of his home, he 
became a somewhat romantic adherent of the Madero movement. 


He entered the Academy of San Carlos as a night student in 1911, 
while he was attending the Preparatoria. With a number of others, in- 
cluding Orozco, Siqueiros participated in the epoch-making student 
strike of that year, his first contact with politico-artistic problems. While 
attending the open-air school of Santa Anita — one of the fruits of the 
strike — under Ramos Martinez, he became involved in the student plots 
against the dictator Victoriano Hucrta. With the encouragement of 
Dr. Atl, he joined the Constitutionalist army late in 1911 (at the age of 
fifteen) under the name of Jose D. Alfaro, and soon advanced to the rank 
of sub-lieutenant. In 1913 he was in the mob led by cadets of the Colegio 
Militar and workers from the Casa del Obrero Mundial which followed 
Madero from Chapultepec Castle to the National Palace to challenge the 
reactionary forces opposed to him. Here Siqueiros witnessed his first 

In 1914 he joined the general stall" of the Carranzist General Manuel 
M. Dieguez, Chief of the Western Division which was comprised mainly 
of students, and rose to the rank of Capitano Segundo while participating 
in various battles in the north and northwest of Mexico. During this 
same period Siqueiros was one of the Orizaba group under Dr. Atl. These 
activities in which students participated so strongly were the real source 
of Siqueiros's knowledge of and feeling for the Revolution — as was also 
the case with Orozco. From these experiences he claims that he learned 
Mexican geography, history, archaeology, and social problems. For 
Siqueiros the events of 191(3 18 brought a new kind of interest in the 
Mexican people as well as an end to the aesthetics of the Diaz period. 

In 1919, with the help of Venustiano Carranza, head of the Con- 
stitutionalist Army, Siqueiros was sent to Europe to develop as an artist, 
although his official post was at the Mexican Embassy in Paris as a 
military attache. Here he made friends with Rivera, and exchanged ideas 
on modern painting as well as on the problems of the socially oriented 
artist. From Barcelona in 1921 he issued his famous Manifesto to the 
Artists of America in Vida Americana, which he had founded. The follow- 
ing year (1922) Siqueiros returned to Mexico to join his contemporaries 
in building the 'Mexican renaissance.' 1 

Arriving home in September 1922, Siqueiros took a leading role in 
the formation of the Syndicate, its relations with the government, and the 
contracts for various mural projects. He is generally believed to have 
drafted the resounding Manifesto of the Syndicate cited earlier. The 
following year he conceived and helped to found El Machete with Guerrero 
and Rivera, a paper at first designed to emphasize the social role of mural 
painting and black-and-white graphic work. As this periodical turned 
increasingly to the left and the government in the opposite direction, 

1 According to Orozco, Autobiogrqfia, p. 82, Siqueiros was recalled from 
Rome by Vasconcelos. 


serious differences soon developed. Siqueiros and his friends Amado de 
la Cueva, Xavier Guerrero, and Roberto Reyes Perez all ultimately lost 
their painting jobs. 

Although El Machete was hailed by certain elements as the best answer 
to the need for a people's newspaper, it was more important as a political 
device in the city than as education for the illiterate peasants, who earned 
an average of thirty centavos a day — the paper cost ten. After the general 
firing of Syndicate artists in 1924, Siqueiros worked with Guerrero and 
Leopoldo Mendez on this newspaper until it was temporarily suppressed 
that same year. 

From late in 1922 to June 1924, when the work on the Preparatoria 
was first suspended, Siqueiros painted his staircase murals in the patio of 
the Colegio Chico: the Burial of a Worker, The Elements {Spring, The Sun, 
et cetera, experiments that were destroyed), The Angel, and the Christ. 
These represent a self-conscious return to native values (in the heads of 
the Christ and the workers carrying the coffin) from Aztec sculpture, 
the spirit of which Siqueiros absorbed to a remarkable degree (fig. 13). 2 
If this treatment is compared with the mechanical way in which Rivera 
utilized precolonial art in his Day of the Dead in the Country or in the 
Ministry of Education staircase mural, with its photographic copy of the 
Aztec flower god, one can see the difference between expressive adapta- 
tion and 'archaeological reconstruction'. 3 

A second point about these early murals is Siqueiros's claim 4 that 
from the beginning, in contrast to the flat two-dimensional work of most 
of his colleagues, he treated the mural as an integral part of the building. 
Before anyone else, he painted a vault (The Angel) with a consciousness 
that the mural is, or should be, the painting of architectural space and 
not of simple flat walls in two dimensions. He made a deliberate choice 
at this moment of a vault to paint, while his colleagues chose flat spaces. 

From the outset, there is not only this consciousness of spatially design- 
ed painting but also a kind of sculptural and powerful form that remain 
characteristic throughout his career. Even though Siqueiros presents a 
certain amount of religious content here — as do the others at this juncture 
— his Christ, like that of Orozco, is a dynamic and angry figure. 

The famous Burial of a Worker (fig. 13) is generally considered a 
memorial to the martyred governor of Yucatan, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, 
although it takes the form of a symbolic representation of the solidarity 
of the workers. 5 This sense of unity is reinforced by the way in which the 

2 Cf. porphyry mask in George C. Vaillant, Aztecs of Mexico, Doubleday, 
Doran & Co., X.Y., 1941, plate 49; also in Laurence Schmeckebier, Modern 
Mexican Art, Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 1939, fig. 41. 

3 Luis Cardoza y Aragon, La Nubey el Reloj, Mexico, 1940, plate 1 1, Rivera. 
* jo Obras Recientes de David Alfaro Siqueiros, Instituto Nacional de Eellas 

Artes, Mexico, 1947, Introd. by Angelica Arenal, p. 16. 

5 Paul Westheim, 'David Alfaro Siqueiros, analisis de la forma, 'Espacios, 
no. 4, Jan. 1950. 



two rear workers have their hands on each other's shoulders. The shoulder 
of the third figure shows a similar hand, though the fourth figure was 
never added. The architectonic heads are designed to envelop the in- 
tensely blue coffin in a rectangle, paralleling the impressive cubical mass 
of that object with its unobtrusive but meaningful hammer and sickle on 
top. The entire effect here, as in later works of Siqueiros, is a forward 
motion toward the spectator. 

At this stage of the Mexican movement, Rivera was painting his 
Creation in the Bolivar Amphitheater and Orozco was struggling toward 
realization of form ideas that still lay in the future. This mural of Siqueiros, 
on the other hand, already shows a definite maturity of feeling and form. 
His quickly achieved crystallization, though arrested by the turn of events 
of the next few years, would ultimately resolve itself into the long suc- 
cession of works beginning in the 'thirties and continuing to the present 


siqjjeiros. Burial of a Worker, unfinished, fresco. 




The Calles Period 

192 3 to l<!34 

The decade dining which Mexico wore the face of Don Plutarco Elias 
Calles began with a brave promise of reform, and reached its climax in a 
serious setback to the Revolution. It included Calles's own presidency 
from 1924 to 1928 as well as the following six years during which he con- 
trolled a series of puppet presidents. 

Originally a belated follower of Madero, Calles had acted for a while 
as lieutenant to Obregon in the northern campaign. Under Carranza 
he became Governor of Sonora, where his anticlerical activities aroused 
the antagonism of various foreign governments. He came into the pres- 
idency in 1924 as Obregon's candidate, nipping in the bud (with the aid 
of United States-supplied arms) an uprising by de la Huerta. 

Calles began his administration with a definite interest in improving 
conditions, but, in the fashion of many of his predecessors, he showed an 
equally marked preference for dictatorial methods. In some ways there 
were advances; roads, dams, powerhouses, and schools were built. But 
at the same time, all opposition to the government was ruthlessly crushed. 
The educational program of Vasconcelos was carried forward and 
agrarian reform was also promoted in various ways, including the found- 
ing of agricultural banks. The bulk of the money, however, was lent to 
wealthy farm-owners who knew the right people. Although Don Plutarco 
liked to refer to himself as a socialist, he and his friends became very 
wealthy. If any one thing can be said to have marked his 'socialist' 
administration, it is the fact that Mexican capitalism made considerable 
progress under the leadership of Calles. Nevertheless, within a relatively 
short time he became more and more the dictator and less and less the 

An outstanding symptom of this process was in the labor movement. 
The unions had to join the government-controlled C.R.O.M., led by 
Luis Morones, the new Secretary of Industry, whose Grupo Accion 
smashed all rival unions. So-called labor leaders grew rich, since they 
were now in a position to control strikes and to blackmail employers 
accordingly. Rural resentment against the labor program was viciously 
suppressed, and foreign 'agitators' were simply shipped over the border. 

Calles's 'radicalism' emerged in his long-felt antagonism toward the 
clergy, which opposed him and allied itself with certain privileged groups. 


In return, he applied the anticlerical clauses of the constitution. In 1926 
church schools were closed, foreign clergy deported, and native priests 
forced to register with the police — measures that caused a three-year-long 
but unsuccessful church strike. Part of the church's resentment was mani- 
fested in stirring up the Cristeros (so-called 'followers of Christ'), whose 
slogan Crista Rey\ (Christ the King) was the last thing heard on earth by 
frightened schoolteachers whom they murdered or by citizens whose 
trains were dynamited. 

During the early years of his power, Calles became involved in a dispute 
with the United States over enforcing the anti-alien sections of the famous 
Article 27. He insisted that owners of oil lands turn in their titles for 
fifty-year leases. This quarrel lasted well into 1927; shouts for intervention 
were raised by United States big business and church authorities. The 
wise appointment of Dwight W. Morrow as ambassador to Mexico eased 
the strain considerably. He made tactful gestures toward salving Mexican 
pride (previous emissaries had treated Mexicans as inferiors), and dis- 
played an interest in education and agriculture. This was climaxed by 
his inviting Lindbergh and Will Rogers to visit Mexico and by his com- 
missioning Diego Rivera to paint- murals in the Palace of Cortez at 
Cuernavaca. These efforts had their result in the decision of the Mexican 
Supreme Court whereby foreigners with pre-1917 concessions still retain- 
ed their rights. 

For the presidency of 1928, Calles managed to secure the election of 
his former chief, Obregon, but the latter was assassinated within a few 
weeks by an independently acting religious fanatic who resented the 
persecution of the church. With the Calles-supported Portes Gil chosen as 
president in 1928, the ex-president became the power behind the chair 
for the next six years as the 'supreme chief.' 

Under Portes Gil, gestures were again made in the direction of reform. 
Most interesting, however, was the organization of a new government 
party, the P.N'.R. (National Revolutionary Party), whose function from 
then on was to consolidate the group in power and make it self-succeed- 
ing. Every government employee had to contribute to its support; all 
political groups were subordinated to it and independents of any kind 

When the P.N.R. put up Ortiz Rubio as their candidate to succeed 
Portes Gil, Vasconcelos was nominated by the opposition to run against 
him. In spite of a vigorous nationwide tour during which he openly 
denounced Calles and his local and foreign friends, Vasconcelos did not 
have the remotest chance of success against this well-organized machine. 
He left for the United States, claiming fraud, which there undoubtedly 
was. If his books and other writings indicate a strong belief that the 
Revolution has failed, one can hardly be surprised. 

Under the new president, Calles ran Mexico from his elaborate house 
in Cuernavaca, which was located on a street popularly nicknamed the 


'Street of the Forty Thieves.' There, surrounded by wealthy 'socialists,' 
he exercised control by telephone to the capital. Despite its left-wing 
utterances, the P.N.R. was nothing now but a grafting dictatorship 
which permitted foreign capital to have its way (thanks to blocks of 
stock handed out in the right quarters), helping them to avoid strikes 
and otherwise smoothing the way. By 1933, according to Verna Millan, 
the labor leader Morones had 1,543,376 pesos registered in his name in 
Mexico City alone. 1 Even if we allow for the possibility of exaggeration 
in this and similar figures, there was still a substantial sum of money 
involved. One has only to look at the photographs of the well-fed, well- 
dressed, diamond-studded Morones during this period to sense the 
depths to which the Revolutionary movement had fallen. 2 

Yet by the end of the Calles period there were certain clear indications 
of a change for the better. Under the last of the Calles men (1932-3), 
Abelardo Rodriguez, the banker and gambling-house operator, fascism 
appeared in Mexico with the organization of the Gold Shirts — backed 
by the Calles crowd. This group was presumably dedicated to war on 
Jews (a minute part of the Mexican population) and Communists, against 
whom they fought street battles. From this low point in modern Mexican 
history a reaction set in. In 1932 the anti-C.R.O.M. movement was 
crystallized in the formation of a General Confederation of Workers and 
Peasants (C.G.O.C.) under the former director of the Preparatoria, the 
scholarly Vicente Lombardo Toledano. The years 1933 and 1934 saw 
younger and more progressive elements coming into the P.N.R. itself, 
and agrarian reform was once more put into forward motion as banks 
were established to help the peasants and land distribution was re- 

The end of Abelardo Rodriguez's administration also saw the appoint- 
ment of a liberal Minister of Education, Narciso Bassols, under whom the 
school system was reformed. Incompetents and obstructionists were 
thrown out, teacher wages were raised, and a new government program 
was instituted. It became fixed policy at this time and thereafter for all 
new schools in the Federal District to be decorated with mural paintings. 
This was a considerable change from the lack of government patronage, 
the actual hostility, that had forced Mexican painting into exile during 
this period, when the 'big three' (Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros) did 
most of their important work abroad. During the next administration 
they would resume their rightful places in the Mexican scene. 

But the liberal policies of Bassols were not to go unchallenged. Clerical 
elements organized against him with accusations of teaching sex in the 
schools, attacking religion, and so forth, and ultimately forced his re- 
signation. This brilliant man, who had translated John Strachey's Theory 
and Practise of Socialism into Spanish, considering it a necessary tool for 

1 Millan, op. cit. p. 86. 

2 Salazar, op. cit. p. 35. 


'socialist Mexico,' was shifted to the Department of the Interior in 1934, 
and later became ambassador to France. 

Vet it was clear that the Callistas would have to make concessions if 
they were to remain in power. In 1934 Calles agreed to a presidential 
candidate acceptable to the left wing: Lazaro Cardenas, a man with a 
well-deserved reputation for honesty and reform. He was elected in July 
1934 for a six-year term with a Calles-designated cabinet, which was to 
insure Calles's control. The next epoch, however, tells the story of Car- 
denas's 'dropping the pilot' and initiating the most progressive ad- 
ministration in modern Mexico. 

Some of the developments in the art movement during the Calles era 
have already been mentioned. The firing of Siqueiros, Orozco, and 
others in 1924 with the incoming Calles administration left only a handful 
of painters working in Mexico City. Siqueiros and his group fled to 
Guadalajara, where, after a brief painting interval, Siqueiros turned to 
labor organization. On his return to Mexico City in 1930, he was prompt- 
ly imprisoned for about a year and then kept under police supervision in 
Taxco. He left soon afterward for a stay in the United States, Argentina, 
and Cuba, and came back in 1934. . 

Orozco, after a brief period of retirement in his suburban residence, 
received a private commission and one small government commission. 
After being permitted to finish his Preparatoria paintings (with the help 
of foreign citizens), he left Mexico from 1927 to 1934. Jean Chariot 
worked for the Carnegie archaeological expedition in Chichen-Itza from 
1926 to 1929, expressing his Mexicanism, as did many others, in easel 
pictures, e.g. the Tortilla Maker with its charming primitivism and highly 
keyed color. He then came to New York and made his headquarters in 
the United States until after World War II, when he went to teach at the 
University of Hawaii. Julio Castellanos was abroad from 1925 to 1928, 
as were others. 

Rivera was able to accommodate himself to the change of political 
scenery. He completed his Ministry of Education murals, and executed 
his Chapingo decorations as well as those in the Ministry of Health, the 
Palace of Cortez at Cuernavaca, and the staircase of the National Palace 
in Mexico City. In 1930, however, even he left Mexico and stayed in the 
United States for the next four years. 

The sum total of murals done in Mexico during the Calles period, then, 
comprises those of Rivera, the 1927 Ministry of Health mural by Fer- 
nando Leal (removed by Rivera to make room for his own work), the 
staircase in the former church of San Pedro y San Pablo by Roberto 
Montenegro, the enforced completion of the Orozco murals in the 
Preparatoria, and his two relatively unimportant works in the House of 
Tiles and the Agricultural School at Orizaba. 

On a perhaps less significant aesthetic level are the various school 
murals done under the new Bassols policy in 1933-4. These include a 


fairly extensive list in the Federal District, such as the Escuela Emiliano 
Zapata murals by Pablo O'Higgins, the Escuela Gabriela Mistral murals by 
Julio Castellanos and Juan O'Gorman, and the outstanding example in 
the Escuela Melchor Ocampo by Julio Castellanos. The last is a charm- 
ing allegory of Heaven and Hell, beautifully and dynamically organized 
within itself and with relation to the side panels, which show such 
children's games as the Little Fish, the Game of the Horse, and so on. 
Generally speaking, however, the school murals are rather pedestrian 
affairs when compared to the heights Mexican painting reached even 
during this period. 

Curiously enough, it was in the United States (and elsewhere) that 
Mexican art came of age in the long series of brilliant works by Orozco 
and Rivera and the experimental but important murals of Siqueiros in 
California, Buenos Aires, and Cuba. In Mexico itself, the lack of govern- 
ment patronage during most of this time and the general reactionary 
climate bred a kind of escapist turning away from current social problems 
toward a new interest in European literature and art. 

Easel painting got its start under the leadership of painters such as 
Rufino Tamayo, Manuel Rodriguez Lozano, Julio Castellanos, Carlos 
Orozco Romero, Augustin Lazo, and Carlos Merida. The influences 
coming from Europe varied all the way from the neo-Classicism of 
France and Italy to the Magic Realism of Germany in the 'twenties and 
the abstract Expressionism of Paul Klee. With the advent of the Cardenas 
administration in 1934, however, the easel painters were overshadowed 
by the mural development and a renewed interest in graphic work. The 
art movement was once more harnessed to the chariot of the Revolution. 


1924 to 1934 


Rivera's work at the beginning of this era corresponds in spirit to the 
end of the Obregon period and the beginning of the Calles period. It 
represents a swing away from the simplicity and largeness of his Ministry 
Court of Labor murals toward a new kind of illustrative and picturesque 
quality, as in the Court of Festivals begun in 1924 and completed 
(together with the top floor of the earlier patio) in 1928. This second 
phase also indicates a change (for the time being) from a straightforward 
political attitude toward the compromise that had to be made in oi der to 
continue working in the Calles environment. This appears in the celebra- 
tion of folklorism rather than of social problems. Where the latter are 
portrayed, they yield the stereotyped forms on the main floor of the 
Court of Festivals or the ineffective and superficial third-floor corrido 

Although Rivera had by this time mastered the true fresco technique, 
these walls show in the main a lack of color balance, not altogether com- 
pensated for by the increasing brightness and attractiveness of color 
schemes designed to act as unifying forces. The deficiency is overcome 
only in occasional panels on the third floor. During this phase one finds 
Rivera still steering a middle course between the coloristic and the 
monumental. The trend toward narration and didacticism takes on in- 
creasing importance. 

The Court of Festivals is a typical instance of this mixture of tendencies, 
with the balance falling toward the coloristic and expository. On one 
wall is a series of crowd panels (bringing to mind the Sienese mass 
groupings), each around a doorway: May Day, Distribution of the Land, 
and Market Day in the City. Each shows a group of figures above the door- 
way, listening to speeches or watching the crowd. The optimistic Distribu- 
tion shows an ideal situation reflecting the initial liberalism of the Calles 
administration, soon to be nullified. The May Day, identically arranged 
(although twice as long), is noteworthy for the portraits in the left-hand 
group, e.g. Maximo Pacheco and Paul (later Pablo) O'Higgins, two of 
Rivera's new staff of assistants, which now also included Ramon Alva 
Guadarrama, Emilio Amero, and others. The earlier generation of 
helpers had all gone off on their own, many to continue his point of view, 
others to develop something new. 




charlot. Washerwomen, fresco, ministry of education, Mexico city. 


In Market Day in the City, the last crowd composition built around a 
doorway, Rivera turns frankly to the fiesta idea. We may mention here 
the four panels by Amado de la Cueva and Jean Chariot that flank the 
Market Day. These 1923 panels, which predate Rivera's taking over the 
patio, are the Dance of the Santiagos and the Torito by de la Cueva and the 
decoratively effective Washerwomen (fig. 14) and Pack Carriers by Chariot. 
The two by Chariot — and his Dance of the Ribbons later removed by 
Rivera — evidence great formal strength, and are as successful as anything 
of Rivera's in this court. 

Other works by Rivera and his staff in this part of the Ministry include 
the symbolic Taqui Dance (a carry-over from the simpler arrangements 
of the first patio), the Sandunga Dance, Harvest Festival, Corn Festival, 
Burning of the Judases, Ribbon Dance (a not very effective substitution for 
the Chariot mural), the flower Festival of Santa Anita, the Day of the Dead 
in the City, and the Day of the Dead in the Country. The majority of these 
consist of two-dimensional wall illuminations involving a considerable 
number of figures tastefully arranged in varicolored patterns — except for 
the deeply perspectivized Festival of Santa Anita with its far-reaching river 
and boats. 

Typical of this phase is the Day of the Dead in the City (fig. 15), whose 
two-dimensional composition and packed crowds, featuring bourgeois 
mestizo city types, stand in strong contrast to the bare simplicity of the 
Day of the Dead in the Country. In the latter panel, as has been pointed out 
by others, 1 a didactic peasant honesty and frugality are offered in op- 
position to the sophisticated metropolitanism of the city scene. Nor is it 
accidental that the country types are all Indians, while those in the city 
are Creoles and mestizos, including the painter himself in a wide-brimmed 
hat directly beneath the end of the skeleton platform. The city represent- 
ation of one of the most attractive Mexican fiestas is far more successful 
than its counterpart in the country, which loses itself in static formalism, 
unconvincing piety, and undigested imitations of Aztec art. 

These fiesta scenes show Rivera's constantly growing expository 
tendency as well as the turn from politically meaningful to purely 
picturesque thematology at a time when Orozco in the Preparatoria or 
at Orizaba was producing images that reflect a poignant awareness of the 
suffering of the Mexican people. The Court of Festivals offers a pleasant 
May Day, an optimistic Distribution of the Land, and a decorative Day of the 
Judases. The latter very charmingly shows a demonstration against the 
traditional betrayers, with effigies of the priest, politician, and soldier — 
straw men portrayed in a harmless stereotyped fashion. 

In a series of grisaille decorations on the second and third floors of the 
front or smaller patio, the Court of Labor, Rivera enlarged on the scenes 
of labor first with conventional symbols of science and then with allegories 

1 Schmeckebier, op. cit. pp. 124-5. 




rivera. Day of the Dead in the City, fresco, ministry of education, Mexico city. 


on the arts, climaxed by the mawkish Theater. Under the heading of 
poetry are found the martyrs of Mexico, including the precolonial 
Cuauhtemoc and the contemporary Carrillo Puerto, Zapata, et cetera. 
Carrillo Puerto, dressed in a long shift and showing a pathetic little bullet 
hole, while the eyes turn upward in sheerest bathos, is the low point of this 
group. Simpler and more effective is the Emiliano ^apata (fig. 16), which 
shows the strength of Rivera's drawing, but reveals by contrast to the 
Zapatas of other artists a constant inability or unwillingness to rise above 
the level of gentle melancholy or lyric emotionality (compare Orozco, 
fig. 36). 

PHOTO Ol.MRAI. 1)1 l'lT'.I.K'AC .lllNh 


uvera. Emiliano ^apata, detail 


I'llulo CKNIKAI. 1)1 I'l'ltl.lCACIOM.S 



Before finishing the remainder of the murals in the Ministry, Rivera 
took on a simultaneous project in the newly founded Agricultural School 
at Chapingo. The chapel here is generally acknowledged as Diego's 
masterpiece. It was done during 1926-7, while the painter and his 
assistants were working on the second part of the murals described above. 
The Chapingo frescoes reach a high level of unified decorative planning, 
coloristic organization, and muted but expressive feelings (fig. 17). With 
an effective mixture of allegory and quasi-religious symbolism, Rivera 
portrays the different stages in man's social development through revolu- 
tion, comparing these steps to the fertilization of the earth by mankind 
and making revolution as natural as the processes of nature itself. Toward 
this end, he has paired Germination, Flowering, and Fruition (a series of 
beautifully decorative brownish nudes simply disposed about small round 
windows, e.g. the central panel, fig. 18) with the corresponding re- 
volutionary equivalents of Agitation, Armed Struggle, and Reorganization (in 
pink, blue, and gray). 


The chapel is entered through a low vestibule, whose ceiling shows a 
tremendous red star on a blue background containing four yellowish 
hands, two open as though in greeting, the other two grasping a hammer 
and a sickle. On the side walls of this vestibule the high decorative quality 
of the series reveals itself from the start. The right-hand wall composition 
depicts the martyrs ^apata and Montano. They are arranged mummylike 
beneath the earth in vivid orange-red with growing corn above against 
a green background and a splash of exciting color in the sunflower-rimmed 
window space. Here one thinks of the Egyptian Osiris legend and the 
symbolic fructification of the soil through his death. The opposite wall 
of the vestibule shows a group of peasants and workers spreading the 
seed of revolution by talking together in the gentle, almost lyrical fashion 
typical of these murals. 


rivera. Germination, fresco, chapel, chapingo. 


The chapel proper is a barrel-vaulted rectangular chamber, the most 
striking feature of which is the arched mural on the far wall. It features a 
huge buff-colored female nude (the Liberated Earth), eyes turned heaven- 
ward, one hand raised in the traditional gesture of blessing, the other 
holding a small budding plant which symbolizes her liberation. Against 
the blue and gray background are the gifts brought by this beneficent if 
somewhat overlarge figure: electric power, wind power, minerals, and 
so on. This rather top-heavy and crowded composition is not so effective 
as are other portions of the chapel. 

Overhead, the simple rectangular arrangement of the lower panels 
changes to a more complex architectonic conception. A series of well- 
integrated geometric areas emphasizes the transverse arches of the vaults 
and the cornices, one area divided from another by vivid yellow lines. 
Thus the three vaults immediately inside the entrance show a polygonal- 
shaped central section from which triangles radiate; two symbolic 
Michelangelesque nudes are placed in each polygon and one in each 
triangle. The brown Indianized nudes against their blue decorative back- 
ground (fig. 19) show far less organic function than in the original Re- 
naissance source. Their use, however, and the linking elements employed 
give this chapel a unity and feeling of space that are seldom encountered 
in Rivera's work. 




Significant subject matter is confined to the square wall panels or to 
the arched wall surfaces immediately above: e.g. the Liberated Earth, the 
wall over the vestibule entrance with its limpid Virgin Soil, and the adja- 
cent Earth Enslaved over one of the wall panels. These allegories reveal 
both the strength and the weakness of Rivera's style. The Virgin Soil 
(fig. 20), the most poetic and in many ways most effective decorative 
moment in Rivera's painting, is a monumental single nude female figure, 
asleep with its hair flowing down over its eyes. Its right arm moves down- 
ward in the same direction, turns at right angles to parallel the base of 
the panel, and ends in the hand that offers symbolic protection to the 
little budding plant. Its left arm is subordinated to the flowing rhythm 
of the curved haunch that follows the rounded top of this wall section. 
Here, more than in the ceiling nudes, we feel that the lesson of Michel- 
angelo has been absorbed. The superhuman figure emerges against a 
simple landscape background whose spaces, where they exist, are filled 
with the simplest additional elements. 

In individual figures of this kind or in similar works with a limited 
number of forms, Rivera's outstanding ability as a draftsman comes to the 
fore with favorable results. Where, as in the Earth Enslaved, he begins to 
pile up the forms and involve them in an emotional complex, the chances 
of success are considerably less. (Similarly on the third floor of the 
Secretaria there is an unfortunate tendency to substitute caricature for 


rivera. Virgin Soil, fresco, chapel, chapingo. 

moral indignation and symbolic strength.) The beautifully drawn nude 
in this panel, with its back to the audience, has with it a fat 'moneybags,' 
a gross priest, and a bestial soldier with a gas-mask snout. The mixture 
of classical form and popular caricature does not come off well. 

Where emotional content is kept on the lyrical level of the Virgin Soil 
or Flowering, with a few linear forms implying rather than expressing 
emotionality, it is most effective. Some panels, however, because of this 
muted quality are perhaps too withdrawn, considering the subject matter. 
Rivera's scenes of social revolution at this date (1926-7) are philosophical 
rather than activistic in character, compared with Orozco's 1926 panels of 
the Preparatoria. Rivera's Agitation is a quiet get-together, while the Armed 
Struggle shows a dead revolutionist over whose bodies three Marys or their 
Mexican equivalents mourn (one even has a halo furnished by the som- 
brero of a nearby man). The post-Revolutionary scene is a beatific con- 
ception in which the soldier, worker, and peasant perform the traditional, 
here Revolutionary, miracle of feeding the multitudes. By 1927 it was quite 
clear that the multitudes in Mexico were not going to be fed so soon. 

In all these sections perhaps the most effective parts are the large 
symbolic hands, one over each scene. A magnificent open curved hand is 
meant to represent the tension that should emerge from Agitation; a 
clenched fist performs a similar function for the Armed Struggle pieta; and 
the open hand in the third, or Reconstruction, section is supposed to give 
the effect of benediction. The role of the monumentalized hand in the art 
of Diego Rivera is important; it emerges again with equal force in the 
murals at the Department of Health in Mexico City and those at the 
Detroit Institute of Arts some years later. 

Rivera was already an international figure by 1927, when he finished 
the Chapingo murals, and received an invitation to visit the Soviet Union 
for the tenth anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution. There the question 
of an art for the people still remained to be solved after the liquidation of 
modern art a few years earlier. Rivera was the best-known figure of a 
movement that had achieved some sort of answer to this problem; he was 
given academic honors and invited to demonstrate his theories of socialist art. 
Just at this time, however, the great Stalin-Trotsky quarrel ended with the 
defeat of the Trotsky faction, with which Rivera apparently sympathized. 

On his return to Mexico in August 1928, Rivera was warmly received 
by the Mexican Communist Party, with whom his relationship had been 
rather intermittent, but by 1929 he was expelled, presumably for his 
sympathies with Trotsky. Although reinstated for a short time, Rivera 
turned more and more to the world-embracing type of Communism 
preached by Trotsky's Fourth International. Trotsky, who was exiled 
from Russia in 1927, ultimately found refuge in Mexico in 1936, appar- 
ently through the intervention of Rivera. 2 

2 At least according to Rivera himself, as quoted in Bertram D. Wolfe, Diego 
Rivera, Knopf, X.Y., 1939, p. 262. 




The artistic result of Rivera's stay in the Soviet Union is to be found 
in a series of forty-five spontaneous and well-composed watercolors 
painted during the May Day celebration of 1928 (now in the collection 
of the Museum of Modern Art, New York). Produced under the emo- 
tional stress of witnessing socialist history in the making and without the 
opportunity to think and rethink the various problems, these papers are 
among the most exciting things Rivera lias done. One of the watercolors 
with Red soldiers drawn up in a solid mass before a square building has 
a geometric monumentality not found in Rivera's murals of the period. A 
smaller mass rises directly over the inscription lenix to complete a subtle 
alternation of shallow and deep forms, horizontals and verticals, with 
the mass of straight lines finally relieved by a whipping flag above. 


Late in 1928 Rivera resumed his work at the Secretaria. He completed 
this huge job in 1929 with a number of frescoes in the elevator entrance, 
the effective staircase murals, and the panels on the third floor of the 
Court of Festivals. Those near the elevator are merely a reversion to the 
earlier Tehuantepec types in the Court of Labor. The staircase murals 
are far more interesting scenes depicting different parts of Mexico, from 
the lushly painted jungle areas of the south to the oppression of hacienda 
life in the center and the industrial life of the north. The Indian maidens 
in rich jungle foliage, some standing idol-wise (fig. 21) and frontalized, 
others with flutes, again evoke the decorative primitivism of Gauguin 
(and Henri Rousseau). 

Toward the top of the staircase are the tyranny of the hacienda owner 
and the well-arranged Burial of a Revolutionist (fig. 22). In the Burial a 
semicircle of workers fits into the curve of the stairs in a sweeping compact 


rivera. Burial of a Revolutionist, fresco. 



group, from which three white-clad figures bend forward, shoveling earth 
into the grave. At the side, three symbolic mourners, their backs to the 
spectator as in early Italian painting, are placed at the head of the stairs; 
a group of nude furies wheels disconsolately above this tragic scene in a 
manner that again suggests the fourteenth century. Here for the time 
being Rivera emerges from his decorative lyrical shell into a more 
dynamic sphere of action. 

In the third-floor panels, however, the emotional quality dips again 
as he illustrates two corridos of the 1910-20 period, The Proletarian Revolu- 
tion and The Mexican Revolution. Series of rectangular and arched panels 
are connected above by red ribbons bearing verses from the songs. 
Scenes such as The Night of the Rich, Bourgeois Reformers, The Billionaires, 
and so on, are shown. They are caricatures in the most conventional 
sense, suggesting newspaper cartoons far more than pictorial symbols. 

This point of view is followed in many later murals which are evidence 
of Rivera's increasing political bent from the time of his return from 
Moscow. It would appear that in these paintings he is more concerned 
with a political message than with aesthetic quality. In many of the 
third-floor panels, Rivera tends to represent the Mexican Revolution not 
as a local phenomenon but as part of the world revolution. The bourgeoi- 
sie and millionaires whom he attacks, however, are primarily United 
States figures rather than the 'millionaire socialists' of Mexico who were 
busily plundering the land. 

There are a number of other sections that abandon the most obvious 
associational elements to show a fine decorative and even lyrical quality. 
This may be seen in The Rain (fig. 23), which derives from the simple 
verses : 

Who does not feel happy 
When it begins to rain? 
It is a very obvious sign 
That we shall have food. 3 

In this unassuming panel, with its religious overtones of simple piety and 
thankfulness for blessings received, Rivera is manifestly more successful 
than in the somewhat pompous and smug speeches implied in the 
political works. Generally speaking, the third-floor area is more con- 
sistent coloristically than are other parts of the building. One long side 
shows a dominant red and greenish-yellow tonality; another wall is 
partly blue in one section and red in another. 

Rivera's loudly proclaimed Communism and his anti-United States 
attitude did not prevent him from accepting a commission from the new 
ambassador Dwight Morrow in 1929, after the painter had finished his 

3 Translated in Frescoes in the Ministry of Education by Diego Rivera (Mexican 
Art Series no. 2), Frances Toor, 1937. 




rivera. The Rain, fresco, ministry of education, Mexico city. 

attacks on the United States in the Ministry of Education. By this time 
Diego was 'on the outs' with the Communist Party, and his acceptance 
of this assignment from the representative of the United States govern- 
ment was entirely in line with the general pacification of the period and 
its attempts at a rapprochement with northern capital. 

Ambassador Morrow's commission was for the Palace of Cortez in the 
city of Cuernavaca, about forty miles from the capital and at that time 
the headquarters of the behind-the-scenes Calles dictatorship and the 
rich 'socialists.' Here, on the walls of an open balcony corridor on the 
second floor rear, facing the picturesque mountain valley, Rivera laid 
out a series of incidents from the history of Mexico culminating in the 
uprising of Zapata, one of the great heroes of this state of Morelos. 

Beginning with the depiction of Aztec Mexico with its human sacrifice, 
the narrative moves along to the invasion by the Spaniards, the oppression 
of the Indians during the colonial period, and the fight for independence 
ending with Zapata. On the end wall we see an Indian sacrifice scene 
above the doorway; at either side, brilliantly dressed Indians sweep across 
to attack the armored Spaniards. The long wall at the left displays another 
battle between Indians and Spaniards, the armored and mounted 
enemy driving the Indians across the Cuernavaca canyon. This portion, 
with its native figures climbing across the rich canyon foliage and fallen 
trees, is one of the most effective sections in the entire building. Another 
part of the long wall deals with the taking of the city, its pillaging, and 
the violence done to the inhabitants. 

The final sections of this wall treat the enslavement of the Indian 
(fig. 24). One scene shows the slave system on the sugar plantations of 
Morelos, with the mounted foreman and reclining owner; the other 
shows the building of this very Palace of Cortez under similar armed 
guards. The second end wall presents the building of churches with slave 
labor, the Inquisition, the conversion of the Indians, and finally the 
peasant revolution led by a handsome Zapata with a beautiful white 
horse. Two other walls offer an additional full-length portrait of Emiliano 
Zapata and a portrayal of Morelos, the great leader of the previous century 
(shown with the face of Rivera) . 

In the years 1929-30 Rivera also undertook to decorate the Council 
Room of the Ministry of Health in Mexico City, perhaps the lowest point 
in his creativity since The Creation mural. On the ceiling and walls of this 
room, a number of rather dismal allegorical nudes depict Purity and 
Continence, Life and Health, Knowledge and Fortitude. In contrast 
to these unfortunate and empty decorations are the powerful decorative 
hand holding sheaves of wheat and the symbolic blooming sunflower that 
represents growth. Without program notes or titles the nude figures are 
little more than generalized decorative forms against a blue background 
and on a greenish-yellow ground, capably drawn but empty of signifi- 




*$£gi Sir 

/ 1 a/sM 



rivera. Enslavement of the Indians, fresco, palace of cortez, cuernavaca. 

The National Palace staircase murals, begun in 1929 and completed 
in 1935 on Diego's return from the United States, may be compared with 
the contemporary murals at Cuernavaca. Both are primarily narrative 
and didactic in purpose. The Palace murals, in addition, refer to current 
problems, however ambiguously, and to the future, however gloriously. 
The enormous historical panorama projected by Rivera on this staircase 
has the merit of a better worked out decorative scheme and a more 
balanced and lasting color. It has retained its original quality, while the 
Cuernavaca murals have long since faded into an unbalanced jumble. 

The portions of the staircase mural executed in 1929-30 include the 
right-hand wall and the large middle wall with its five arched sections 
and polygonal base, corresponding to the right-hand stairway and the 
wall of the landing. Although the scheme also included the left-hand 
staircase wall, this was not carried out until 1935. Like the Cuernavaca 
murals, the National Palace works relate the history of Mexico from 
precolonial times to the Revolution, but with comments on recent 
history as well. 

The right wall, in contrast to the later prophetic Marxist left wall, 
portrays the mythical and precolonial past of Mexico. Its lower section 
is concerned with the customs (wars, ceremonies, industries) of the 
Indians and its upper section with their beliefs. Quetzalcoatl teaches 
the Indians, they quarrel, he leaves — in scenes that may be contrasted 
with those of Orozco at Dartmouth. This right side remains the most 
interesting part of the staircase murals. It is relatively simple in presen- 
tation, with a bright blue gentle sky, stunning orange sun, and orange- 
colored flames emerging from the ancient volcano. 

The main wall, occupying the space on the first landing, tells the 
story of Mexico from the Conquest in the early sixteenth century up to 
the time when the mural was actually being painted. It is a continuous 
expanse interrupted by five arches in the upper section, and may be 
described in terms of those divisions, which set off the chief personalities 
and incidents of this long tale. The lower portion of the long landing wall 
deals with the colonial history of Mexico. Beginning at the right with the 
attack by the Spaniards and moving left, the various scenes show the 
enslavement of the Indian. A typical section from this lower third of the 
main wall (fig. 25) illustrates the wealth of material incorporated into 
every part of the vast historical panorama: the actual fighting, the 
slavery of the Indians, the cruelty of the Spaniards, and the protection 
extended the Indians by gentler elements among the clergy. 

The upper portion of the wall (divided into five main parts) shows in 
the two outside arches later scenes of invasion and occupation, first by 
the French (at the left) and then by the United States (at the right). In 
the French-invasion area, the strongly outlined figures of Maximilian and 
his generals at the right and the soldiers at the left exist in a somewhat 
static relationship almost completely without emotional overtones. 

Immediately adjacent to these outside panels are two inner arches with 
scenes of the struggles between progressive and reactionary forces in 
Mexican history. On one side (right) the problems of the Reform period 
are laid out; Juarez and his followers are opposed to General Miramon's 
party. Directly opposite, on the second arch from the left, is the Diaz era, 
with symbols of foreign capitalist invasion and the rising tide of dissatis- 
faction signified by Francisco Madero. 


rivera. Conquest of Mexico, detail on staircase landing, fresco. 


In the center arch the resistance to reaction comes to a head. Here, 
directly above the struggling Indians and Spaniards of the colonial era, 
the Mexican eagle is placed as the symbol of a resurgent Mexico. In the 
upper portion of this panel the great leaders of Mexican independence 
from Spain — Hidalgo, Morelos, Allende, and so on — are placed below 
the leaders of the modern Revolution — Zapata, Carrillo Puerto, and 
others. At the left is the usurper Emperor Iturbide and a double portrait 
of Obregon and Calles, who appear to be backed up by a fat-faced in- 
dividual who suggests the labor leader Morones, as well as by soldiers 
with United States campaign hats. These details may have contributed 
to Rivera's leaving Mexico for the United States, where he was to spend 
the next five years, returning later to complete the decoration of this 
staircase. Bold and large in effect, this mural shows clearly the painter's 
tremendous factual application and narrative facility. 

In 1929 Rivera had been made director of the Academy of San 
Carlos, which he proceeded to reform in curriculum and staff. Juan 
O'Gorman, the architect-painter who has done so much for architecture 
in Mexico since the late 'twenties, was one of Rivera's appointees to the 
School of Architecture. It was in architecture that Rivera met his 
strongest opposition, because of commercial building interests. Although 
this struggle ended in the resignation of the daring director, it had the 
beneficial result of bringing into the open the question of the new archi- 
tecture versus the old academic forms that still strangled Mexican design. 

Rivera had now been working on murals in Mexico since 1922. 
Between 1924, when he assumed charge of the Secretaria murals, and 
1930, when he left for his first United States visit, he was by all odds the 
dominant and best-known figure in the movement. Except for a brief 
interlude in 1926 when Orozco was permitted to finish his murals in the 
Preparatory School, it was the name of Rivera that came before the public. 
The controversy over an inscription on the Exit from the Mine (see fig. 8), 
the trip to Moscow and subsequent enthusiasm for 'Comrade Diego' in 
El Machete, followed by his expulsion from the Communist Party, the 
Morrow project in Cuernavaca, the difficulties in the Academy — all 
served to augment his fame. By 1930 he was hailed in many quarters as 
the outstanding muralist in the world. Certainly he was the best publicized, 
if not the most outstanding. Even at this point one must reckon with the 
monumental 1926 works of Orozco in the Preparatory School, one of the 
finest mural groups in Mexico. 

The circumstances of Diego's coming to San Francisco at the end of 
1930 have been recorded by his biographer, Bertram D. Wolfe. 4 The 
artist had been invited four years previously by William Gerstle, president 

4 Wolfe, op. cit. 


of the San Francisco Art Commission, to paint a mural in the California 
School of Fine Arts. A second job, offered by the architect of the San 
Francisco Stock Exchange in 1929, finally made Rivera decide to visit 
the United States. After a number of difficulties with the State Depart- 
ment, which was reluctant to issue a residence permit to the Communist 
painter, Rivera finally arrived in San Francisco late in 1930 amid an out- 
cry from local newpapers and artists who opposed his engagement on both 
political and economic grounds. Once the Riveras (Diego and his 
painter-wife, Frida Kahlo) had arrived, however, the clamor was stilled. 
After his one-man show late that year at the California Palace of the 
Legion of Honor and other private gallery exhibitions in Los Angeles, 
San Francisco, Carmel, and San Diego — plus the impact of the Rivera 
personalities — Diego was a real celebrity. 

The year 1931 brought a continual procession of triumphs: the staircase 
mural in the Luncheon Club of the San Francisco Stock Exchange, the 
mural in the California School of Fine Arts, a fresco in the home of Mrs. 
Sigmund Stern in Fresno, and four transportable panels for his one-man 
show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. However triumphant 
this series of commissions, exhibitions, and accompanying social events, 
the California murals are a not particularly brilliant segment of Rivera's 
work. Among the parties, the uncritical hosannahs, and the complete 
lack of significant purpose, the three California works emerge as a social 
rather than an artistic success. 

At one of these parties the painter met Helen Wills, internationally 
famous tennis player, whose face and form became the allegorical figure 
of California in the Stock Exchange mural. This gigantic and convention- 
al allegory, embracing the various natural and industrial resources of the 
state of California, derives from well-established academic sources. 
Although Diego professed to be excited by the fabulous environment, his 
pictorial statement seems noncommittal and unexciting. 

The second large-scale work of that year was the original contract by 
Mr. Gerstle for the California School of Fine Arts. Here is another 
hymn to the glory of modern industry, this time in terms of building con- 
struction, visualized in a gigantic mural thirty-five feet wide and forty- 
five feet high. Its chief element, a scaffolding, stretches across the entire 
composition from bottom to top. The central vertical section shows a 
series of figures doing a huge fresco of a worker, their backs to the aud- 
ience, and featuring the ample posterior of Rivera himself on the second 
plank from the top. In the rectangle at the bottom of this center area are 
two architects consulting with Mr. Gerstle (in the middle). Immediately 
to the right is another rectangular section devoted to architecture and 
showing a white-smocked Frida at a drafting table. The upper left section 
shows a friend of Diego's Paris years, the sculptor Ralph Stackpole, who 
was instrumental in bringing the painter to San Francisco. In this scene 
are also a number of industrial symbols, while at the lower left a group 

of mechanics is at work. The idea of industry and building is continued 
at the upper right with a skyscraper in the process of construction. 

The figure of the painted worker overwhelms the rest of the com- 
position, while Diego's plump bottom confronts the spectator from the 
geometric center of the painting. Apparently the artist was not complete- 
ly pleased with all he had encountered, and in some ways this mural 
was a criticism of the United States. This is indicated in an article he 
wrote for a San Francisco periodical in 1931, entitled 'Scaffoldings,' 
quoted in Mr. Wolfe's biography. 5 Here he attacks United States 
standards of aesthetic judgment, appeals for a more functional approach, 
and urges a joining of northern and southern artists to 'form the new 


Between the work on the Stock Exchange and the Art School murals, 
the Riveras had spent a short vacation period at the home of Mrs. 
Sigmund Stern. The dining-room fresco executed by Diego in this charm- 
ing environment is often referred to as Abundance and Health. It consists of 
a row of almond trees in the background, a group of workers occupied 
with a tractor in the middleground, and a wall in the foreground. There 
is a large fruit-filled basket on top, with three small children looking over 
the wall and taking the fruit. Two of these are the grandchildren of 
Rivera's hostess, the third an imaginary companion of theirs. 

After a very brief stay in Mexico, Rivera (who had still not completed 
the National Palace murals) was recalled to the United States. This time 
a dramatic and successful one-man show was held at the Museum of 
Modern Art in New York, beginning late in December 1931. For this 
show he preparared a series of movable frescoes that would give some 
idea of what he could do and had done in this medium. Four of them 
were reworked fragments from his earlier Mexican murals; three new 
ones were the result of observations made in the United States: Electric 
Welding, Pneumatic Drilling, and the usual 'joker,' this time a panel called 
Frozen Assets. Here he showed in three registers the vault of a bank, a 
group of corpselike figures in a flop house, and in the topmost section 
the skyscrapers of New York formed like tombstones. This reference to 
the growing crisis of the depression was not too well liked, but the ex- 
hibition as a whole was an enormous success, owing partly to the publicity 
accorded the painter's gesture. 

While Rivera had been in San Francisco, discussions had been initiated 
between him and the authorities of the Detroit Institute of Arts, to whom 
he had expressed a keen desire to portray the United States industrial 
scene. The increasing preoccupation with industry and the machine had 
emerged from the artist's first real contact with a mechanized culture. 
This brought a realization of the problems of labor that he could not have 
had in a still primarily agricultural Mexico. But the Detroit commission, 

Wolfe, op. cit. pp. 330-32. 

made possible by the generosity of Edsel Ford and executed in 1932-3, is 
no indictment of capitalist society. The Portrait of Detroit resulted from 
months of careful study of the various factories, shops, and laboratories 
of that great city. It is a monumental glorification of industry, summing 
up the technology of a manufacturing center. 

Rivera's murals in the courtyard of the Detroit Institute trace the 
evolution of industry to its basic components: Lime, Coal, Iron, and 
Sand, which are symbolized through the four races that comprise our 
population: White, Black, Red, and Yellow. Two of the walls here 
depict automobile manufacture (fig. 26), Detroit's chief industry; the 
third wall shows steam, electric power, and aviation (fig. 27); the final, 
or opposite, wall is devoted to a number of agricultural symbols. The 
sculpturesque nudes above this opposite side, like those above the two 
automotive walls, are reminiscent of similar earlier efforts at Chapingo 
and the Ministry of Health. The nude figures in the walls devoted to 
automobile-making represent the red and black races (left-hand wall), 
the white and yellow races (right-hand wall). In addition, the already 
familiar Rivera clenched hands here emerge from the earth to furnish 
the power of iron and coal, lime and sand. 

The walls themselves in their infinite detail have dynamic movement 
and power, although these same details make for a certain difficulty of 

reading or scanning, even more than in the Cuernavaca or National 
Palace murals. To Rivera these works represent the climax of his career, 
but many critics prefer the simplicity and decorative efficacy, the poetic 
quality and brilliant drawing of the Chapingo murals. A storm was 
aroused in the pulpit and press of Detroit by Rivera's materialistic con- 
ception of that city and his representation of Preventive Medicine (fig. 28) 
in a small panel of the left-hand wall in an arrangement reminiscent of 
a Holy Family. At that time, and indeed for a few years later, it seemed 
as though Rivera's murals might be whitewashed over. 

The 'battle of Rockefeller Center' that occurred the following year 
points up the ambiguous position of a Communist artist trying to work 
for a capitalist patron. Whereas in San Francisco and Detroit the problem 
had been glossed over by the artist himself, the situation was quite 
different in the more active political environment of New York, with 
socially conscious artists acting as Diego's assistants. Rivera claimed that 
the disputed portrait of Lenin, which ultimately led to destruction of the 
entire mural, had been included in a less obtrusive form in the sketches 
submitted to the architect. His patrons may not have noticed it. Never- 
theless, in Rivera's attempt to put over such a clear anticapitalist state- 
ment as this mural, he was either naive or impelled by a desire for political 
martyrdom. Whether, as Rivera claims, the prominent and clearly- 
portrayed figure of the Soviet leader at the right side of the mural was 


rivera. Making of a Motor, detail of left wall. 



aesthetically indispensable to the conception as a whole is questionable 
in view of the lack of a comparable figure on the left side (see fig. 76 

Rivera was already reacting to the more liberal currents then apparent 
in Mexico, just as the 'battle of Rockefeller Center' itself must be regarded 
as part of the 1933 economic and political crisis in the United States. The 
painting was only covered up at the height of the battle in May 1933, 
and Diego was simply excluded from the building. But six months later 
the authorities of Rockefeller Center, feeling that the hubbub had 
subsided sufficientlv, had the still-unfinished mural destnned. The 


rivera. Steam, Electricity and Aviation, west, or entrance, wall, fresco. 



rivera. Preventive Medicine, detail of left wall, fresco. 


ensuing clamor indicates, if nothing else, the awakening social conscience 
of United States artists in the 'thirties, an awareness mirrored in their 
turning toward a new social realism. Among the protesting artists was 
Jose Clemente Orozco, then completing his Dartmouth College murals. 
(The following year Rivera reconstructed the Rockefeller mural in the 
Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City — see Chapter XV.) 

The dismissal left Rivera with a series of photographs of the mural and 
a check in full payment for his services. After paying his expenses, he 


applied the remainder to the production of a series of twenty-one re- 
movable fresco panels at the New Workers School in a rickety old building 
on West Fourteenth Street occupied by the Communist Party Opposition, 
the so-called Lovestonites. In this dingy environment, Diego painted his 
Marxist Portrait of America. Again, as in the Detroit murals, the painter 
had to familiarize himself with the subject matter by serious research. In 
this and other matters associated with these murals, he was aided by the 
school's director, Bertram D. Wolfe, his biographer and collaborator in 
their Portrait oj America 6 and Portrait of Mexico. 1 

Perhaps the most conspicuous feature of these panels is the series of 
authentic portraits from United States and associated world history that 
were woven into the various scenes of the country's past and present. 
There can be little doubt of Rivera's phenomenal absorptive understand- 
ing of the material prepared for him by the staff of the New Workers 
School and his translation thereof into the stuff of his pictures. The 
general arrangement in these panels consists first of a group of slightly 
larger than life-size forms in the foreground, generally heroes or symbolic 
figures representative of a given period. In the middleground are masses 
of people in actions related to the large individuals; and the background 
depicts the country's landscape (fig. 29). The contrast and counterpoise of 
heroes and villains give these panels a dynamic quality seldom enjoyed 
by other Rivera works, although their mural quality is debatable. 

While many objected to the Marxist interpretation of this nation's 
history, Siqueiros attacked Rivera for opportunism and inconsistency in 
depicting with photographic exactitude the villains who occurred in 
United States history up to the point at which the paintings were done, 
and then switching to symbols of N.R.A., the Blue Eagle, and so forth, 
instead of showing the specific individuals involved. This, according to 
Siqueiros, was an attempt to avoid offending people who might still 
give him commissions (a remote possibility after the Radio City incident). 8 
These New Workers School murals were later removed to a new head- 
quarters on West Thirty-Third Street in New York — the Independent 
Labor Institute — and then to the summer camp of the International 
Ladies Garment Workers Union at Forest Park, Pennsylvania (Unity 
House). The last Rivera works of this period are a pair of small panels 
dealing with the Russian revolution, done for the Trotskyist headquarters 
on University Place in New York, and featuring the leader of the Fourth 
International, Leon Trotsky. 

6 Portrait of America, Covici Friede, N.Y., 1934. 

7 Portrait of Mexico, Covici Friede, N.Y., 1937. 

8 Rivera's reply to Siqueiros's attacks on him is contained in the pamphlet, 
Raices politieas r motivos personates de la controversia Siqueiros- Rii era, Imprenta 
Mondial, Mexico, 1935. Here Diego defends his 'Leninist Bolshevism' against 
the 'Stalinism' of his opponents, and also accuses them of envying his great rep- 
utation and the number of commissions he receives. 


rivera. Revolution and Reaction, portable fresco, unity house, forest park, pa. 



».:- • it. 


l> I \ I \ 1) i) P o 
Jo.$h CtllYflLNTF, OROZC 

?or Oh i> i: Nf ■ pi 

.(. H AN A.IW 


orozco. Omniscience, fresco, house of tiles (sanborn's), Mexico city. 

1924 to 1934 

In 1924, a year of crisis for Orozco and many of his colleagues, the 
critic Salvador Novo said of the painter's work in the Preparatoria: 
' . . . repulsive pictures aiming to awake in the spectator, instead of 
aesthetic emotion, an anarchistic fury if he was penniless, or if wealthy, 
to make his knees buckle with fright.' 1 By August of that year, after the 
direct physical attack on the murals by students, Orozco was dismissed 
from the job and he returned to newspaper cartooning. 

In 1925 Francisco Sergio Iturbe commissioned Orozco to paint a 
large mural over the staircase of the Casa de los Azulejos (House of 
Tiles), an impressive colonial building now occupied by Sanborn's 
Restaurant. This fresco may be considered the first climax of Orozco's 
'classical' phase. The forms represent a philosophical statement rather 
than a revolutionary exhortation or horror scene; they deal with the 
nature of art. Below two pairs of powerful symbolic hands, like those 
used in the Preparatoria, Orozco has arranged a vertical composition 
called Omniscience (fig. 30), composed of yellow-brown and red-brown 
forms. In the center a magnificent smiling nude looks upward to receive 
the light of Inspiration. At the same time and with a decisive gesture she 
subdues Force and Intelligence, the male and female figures at either 
side of her, held in check by horizontally placed arms. Orozco, who at 
one time had said that 'Art is first of all grace. Where grace is not, 
there is no art. grace cannot be conjured up by so-called artistic recipes,' 
apparently means in this mural that Grace — or Inspiration — is a spiritual 
experience beyond Force and Intelligence. 

The contrast with the mechanically combined figures of Rivera's 
Creation in the Anfiteatro Bolivar is very marked in this well-integrated 
horizontal-vertical arrangement. More important, Rivera used a group 
of conventional symbols inherited from Renaissance and Byzantine art, 
while Orozco evolved an altogether personal idea. 

The year 1926 marks a serious change in Orozco's thematic approach, 
away from the generalized or religious subjects of the first Preparatoria 
murals (Christ Destroying His Cross, Spring, Maternity, and so on), the 


1 Jean Chariot, Art Making from Mexico to China, Sheed & Ward, N.Y., 1950, 
p. 129. 


orozgo. Social Revolution, fresco. 



House of Tiles fresco, or the caricatures of the second-floor Preparatoria 
murals done in 1924. In the 1926 commission for the Industrial School 
at Orizaba (fig. 31) he turned to Revolutionary material in the impressive 
symbolic sense that would later characterize most of his work. This first 
tentative step toward portraying incidents of war, pillage, and rapine was 
taken against the background of Orozco's earlier experiences as an 
illustrator for La Vanguardia. 

In the Orizaba work, men with rifles and spades are symmetrically 
and abstractly arranged over a doorway as builders of the post-Revo- 
lutionary period. In the side panels below, the Orozco of the forth- 
coming Preparatoria murals already emerges. Here are the first notes of 
Revolutionary tragedy in the huddled forms of the crying soldaderas at the 
left and the pathetically interlaced group at the right, with a woman 
wiping the face of a sweating and exhausted soldier. 

Recalled to the Preparatoria shortly after completing the Orizaba 
murals, Orozco proceeded to remove most of the ground-floor material 
painted in 1923-4, leaving the Maternity, The Rich Banquet, and the head 
of the Christ from the scene of His destroying the Cross. 2 As for the rest, 
he found that their generalized Renaissance quality no longer met the 
increasingly powerful emotive needs of his art. He replaced them with 
the reworked Revolutionary Trinity, The Strike, the Trench, and the Destruc- 
tion of the Old Order, in that order from left to right. At either end the two 
left-over murals remain, The Rich Banquet and the Maternity respectively. 

Working against serious difficulties, such as low pay, constant student 
molestation, and the largest problem of all, that of perfecting his new 
style, Orozco painted on steadily, using his master mason as chief model. 
The latter's heavy moustache, slight paunch, and round shoulders appear 
in many compositions of this time, e.g. the left-hand figure in The Strike 
and presumably also the suppliant figure of the Trinity (see fig. 12). 

The early Maternity panel, at the extreme right, had already shown 
some of the monumentality and restraint that characterize Orozco's 
style from this point on. Its colors are less fortunate, however, being hot 
and unpleasant. The Destruction of the Old Order (fig. 32), to the left of that 
panel, shows a pair of gray-white clothed men looking back at lavender 
and yellow-gray broken buildings — the symbols of the old order — seen 
against a dark-blue background. This is perhaps the high point of the 
first-floor patio. It offers a wonderful balance of inward and outward 
moving parts and a powerful assurance in the figures themselves, taking 
one last look backward as they move into the future. 

The following panel, the Trench, betrays a rather strained symbolism 
involving a trio of dancelike figures clothed in the same colors as the 
foregoing but placed against a red background. The Strike, to the left, 
takes us back to the restrained monumentality of the Destruction. Again 

2 Jean Chariot, 'Orozco's Stylistic Evolution,' oc. cit. p. 152. 


gray-white figures appear, now against a beautiful lavender building with 
a narrow red banner nailed across its doorway, the traditional strike 
symbol in Mexico. Here the head of Christ (left over from the previous 
composition in this space) hovers, as it were, over a solemn and hieratic 
scene of the people's misery. As for the Revolutionary Trinity, which we 
have already discussed (see fig. 12), it represents a reworking of what had 
been }Vork, Science, and Revolution, with its somewhat strained and awkward 
quality, into a more abstract symbol of man's suffering. The worker's 
hands have been cut off and the peasant begs for his life, while overhead 
the Revolution appears blinded by its own red flag. In this panel, as in 


orozco. Destruction of the Old Order, fresco. 


the final area containing The Rich Banquet, and so on, color combinations 
are more complicated and far less effective than in the Trench, the Strike, 
and the Destruction, which are related through the colors and forms of the 
men. These three panels, therefore, would seem to be a separate operation 
at a later date and related to the Trinity through the suppliant figure in 
the reworked version. Orozco may well have planned the first floor in its 
present form before his dismissal, but the homogeneity of these three 
panels and their relationship to the staircase and third-floor murals 
would argue a later date for the group. The ground-floor patio is also 
united by pairs of clasped and clenched hands on the dividing arches. 

On the wall immediately adjacent to the ground-floor panels is the 
staircase leading to the upper floors. Here a group of figures at the 
bottom left drinks the waters of knowledge; at the right, series of gray 
builders employ the instruments of their trade. Ascending the staircase, 
we see on the vault directly overhead the magnificently powerful Cortez 
and Malinche, the conqueror and his Indian love, whose union symbolizes 
the joining of the Spanish and Indian cultures. These monumental and 
impressive nudes, he gray-yellow, she brown, are revealed against a 
background of lavender and brown. Their right hands are joined, while 
his left is placed across her body, restraining her from going to the aid 
of the stricken Indian at their feet. 

Directly beneath this poetic symbol is the strong maguey decoration in 
its lavender-colored rectangle. Above, in the vault immediately over the 
top of the stairs, is the figure known as Youth. Here an exultant gray- 
white form soars through the air and flings its limbs to the corners of the 
panel. This figure sums up the hopefulness of that part of the building- 
area, with its beneficent Franciscans comforting Indians, men imbibing 
knowledge, and others building the future. Among the most potent of 
these are The Conqueror-Builder and the Indian Worker and the Ancient 
JVarring Races directly below. The latter symbolizes the constant struggles 
among the ancient inhabitants of Mexico, and shows a menacing, 
pyramidal, blanketed form looming over a prostrate figure. Out of this 
incessant warfare emerge the symbols of the round-headed Conqueror- 
Builder, who fashions modern Mexico with the aid of the Indian Worker. 
The dynamic restlessness of the former and the quiet strength of the seated 
Indian in the related group evoke the controlled power of Michelangelo. 

The final statement in this building, and in many ways the most unified 
and effective of the murals, is the sequence of third-floor Revolutionary 
panels. Admirably set off by a group of flattened arches similar to those 
below, these scenes represent the logical climax of the earlier style. There 
is perhaps less dynamism and direct action than in some of the previous 
sections, but a sober strength and restrained emotional appeal are present 
instead. In accordance with the generally muted drama here, the accent 
is on rebuilding and not on revolt, on pity and not on anger. Although 
contemporary politics are not specifically referred to, one can point to 


the refurbished statement in the Revolutionary Trinity below, with its 
powerful accents of anguish, sorrow, and confusion, and to the Return to 
the Battlefields in this third-floor section, a symbolic indication that the 
struggle is not yet over. 

On this wall, colors are still subdued, but they are far brighter than 
the browns on the stairs or the lower-floor colors, and more effectively 
unified by the use of a strong blue background throughout. The integra- 
tion of the rectangular panels and the shallow arches is effected through 
a horizontal architectural background, in each painting, related to the 
panel itself, while the arched arrangement of the figures ties the fore- 
ground of each section to the curve of the arch. Through this means and 
the dominant deep-blue background that stretches from panel to panel, 
unity is achieved within the series and a relationship created between 
the paintings and the architecture. The figures, moreover, are con- 
sistently grayish, while the architectural backgrounds tend toward 

The sense of subdued emotion, the rigidly controlled structure and 
balance of the compositions, the three-dimensional clarity of the individual 
forms, and the serene strength of the blue background and the gray 
figures before it are a summing up of Orozco's classical phase and the end 
of this particular direction in his painting. Although this wall is in many 
ways one of the most concentrated statements Orozco ever made, it must 
be differentiated from the works of the next phase, which become by 
turn more graphic and more Expressionistic. 

These panels, as seen from across the patio, are a series of individual 
areas enframed by arches. Viewed at close range, they appear as a 
continuous composition, one scene flowing into the next. Thus at the left 
The Wives of the Workers shows a group of grayish figures before a yellow- 
gray building placed against the dark-blue background. Of these three 
women, the two at the right are turned toward the recesses of the building. 
The left-hand figure, a pregnant, sorrowing woman, is placed so that 
her glance and the horizontal of the plow carry the eye to the right 
toward the open grave of the next scene. 

The Gravedigger is painted in dark gray and brown against a similar- 
colored hill of dirt, which carries us back to the left, as does the light- 
blue horizontal building, which is also part of the enclosure surrounding 
the three women. The sleeping digger lies half in and half out of the 
grave, his form paralleling the hill of dirt. The man and the hill make 
a simple dark triangle against the vivid light-blue horizontal architecture. 
The house reverses the perspective of the open grave. Both the pregnant 
woman and the gravedigger are shown with eyes closed. 

The next few scenes show a more diverse handling of background in 
the various connected narratives. The Mother's Benediction turns the 
architecture at an angle to increase the sense of depth. At the right, a 
man on his knees faces away from the spectator and toward the seated 



orozco. The Mother's Farewell, fresco, national preparatory school, Mexico city. 

mother. She blesses him as he prepares to Return to Labor, the next panel 
to the right. The mother and son are placed against a lavender building, 
a more hopeful color than the dun background of The Wives of the }\'orkers. 
The Return to Labor continues this happier lavender tonality; the archi- 
tecture is similarly angled toward the spectator and recedes a consid- 
erable distance, implying that these people are going somewhere, toward 
an optimistic future. The figures themselves are more dynamic and 
varied than any so far. They move vigorously and decisively, as though 
they know what is to be done. 

Here, as in many other panels, is the anonymous figure turned away 
from the spectator or in lost profile, a figure of symbolic meaning as well 
as a form in a composition. Once again, as in the pregnant woman of the 
first panel, we see the magnificent restraint and power of the Mexican 
woman, her capacity for service and suffering. Whether innate or 
developed by the circumstances of the Revolution, her heroic quality is a 
constant factor in Orozco's presentation. 

The Mother's Farewell (fig. 33) takes place before a light-blue building 


sharply angled toward the spectator, with its corner at the left. The panel 
shows two pairs of figures in broad curves set against the long wall that 
moves to the right. In the left-hand pair, the figure of a soldier bends 
forward in a smooth arc to kiss the hand of the abstract little gray form 
with its Aztec face — the theme of the panel. The mother's tight mouth 
and lined countenance, her unpupiled gray eyes shining out from the 
brown of her face, and the general simplified curves of the form make 
this one of the finest details in the entire wall. The bent soldier in the 
second group at the right is overlapped by the first soldier; the two backs, 
legs, and daggers join in a continuity of linear expression that carries us 
from one end of the panel to the other. 

The sorrowful note of this scene is echoed in the Peace of the next 
section, where five figures in gray, white, and light brown form a semi- 
circle before brownish-gray architecture. Two women face the spectator: 
one holding a baby in her arms, the other supporting in her lap the head 
of a sleeping man whose form stretches horizontally across the group. 
The two women have their eyes closed in an uneasy sleep, while the 
other two people in the scene, a man and a woman, face away from the 
spectator, their arms about each other's shoulders, facing the generalized 
architecture in the background. These two may be looking toward the 
future, but they might also be looking at the large cloud in the upper 
right of the panel. 

This is no final peace or moment of actual accomplishment, as is in- 
dicated in the final panel on this wall, the Return to the Battlefields, with 
its subdued but effective tones of gray and brownish gray. The implication 
of 'unfinished business' in this section, in which figures move off diago- 
nally into an open and endless area, is quite different from the other 
panels, with their complete and tight statements. 

During this period Orozco produced a number of ink and wash draw- 
ings, the famous Mexico in Revolution series. These have usually been 
attributed to the 1913-17 period to make them contemporary with the 
events depicted. But one can readily see by comparing any of them (fig. 
34) with other material produced by Orozco during these years (cf. fig. 
33), and even with the first mural paintings, that the Revolutionary 
drawings simply do not belong to that first period of Orozco's art. 
Stylistically, such drawings as the En los Cerros parallel the monumentality 
and closed form of the Peace or The Mother's Farewell in the Preparatoria 
murals. Others, 3 such as The Flag {La Bandera), may be compared with 
the Return to the Battlefields and other similar compositions of this time. 
In a looser form, drawings such as The Dead Comrade (fig. 35) begin to 
approximate the Expressionistic intensity of many of his paintings, prints, 
and murals of the late 'twenties and early 'thirties, and in that sense they 
clearly fit into the pattern of Orozco's evolution as an artist. Among these 

3 Illustrated in Alma Reed, Jose Clemente Orozco, Delphic Studios, N.Y., 1932. 



orozco. In the Mountains (En los Cerros). wash drawing. 


works, we may mention the 1929 illustrations for Mariano Azuela's The 
Under Dogs (Los de Abajo), the 1928-9 lithographs and paintings in New 
York, and the Pomona College and Dartmouth College murals. 

The conflict in style between the 'girls' of the pre-1917 era and these 
incisive and direct representations of suffering and despair is resolved 
by this redating of the drawings on stylistic grounds and through the ex- 
ternal evidence gathered by the scholarly Jean Chariot, 4 who remembers 
that the drawings were done in the period of the 1926 murals and after. 
Moreover, he quotes from the contemporary diary of Anita Brenner, who 
lived in Mexico at the time and was in constant contact with Orozco. 
According to this diary, a number of the painter's friends — including 
Manuel Rodriguez Lozano and Miss Brenner herself — realized Orozco's 

4 Chariot, op. cit. 



orozco. The Dead Comrade, wash drawing. 


financial difficulties and invented a mythical United States purchaser 
who wanted some illustrations for a book he was doing on the Revolution. 
(Orozco's mural work was stopped for the second time in September 1926, 
and Miss Brenner intervened on his behalf with the rector of the univer- 
sity.) The artist began to deliver the wash drawings toward the end of 
September. According to the diary, he continued to turn them out until 
August 1927, just before he left Mexico. In October 1928 they were first 
shown as part of an exhibition at the Marie Sterner Gallery in New York. 5 
The next steps in his development now become very clear: The Under 
Dogs drawings, the lithographs he did from 1926 on, the easel paintings 
of the period, and finally the great murals from 1930 to 1934. 

5 Mrs. Reed, op. cit., lists them as 'Drawings and lithographs from sketches 
made between 1913 and 191 7.' The same position is maintained in her later 
work, Orozco, Fondode Cultura Economica, Mexico, D. F., 1955. English edition, 
Oxford L T niversity Press, N.Y., 1956. 



orozco. £apata. oil. mexico city, coll. dr. a. carrillo gil. 


What had been impossible for Orozco to say openly in the third floor 
of the Preparatoria, he poured forth in these washes that could be shown 
only in New York City, far away from the Calles regime. They represent 
a reminder of the immediate past, of the sacrifices that had been made 
for the Revolution and the shift during the new generation, when Rev- 
olutionaries became politicians. Moreover, they emphasize the pessi- 
mistic interpretation of the Revolution that is characteristic of Orozco 
throughout. Their closest analogue is the desperate, mystical, and fatalis- 
tic prose of Azuela, and they are far removed from the bland optimism of 
Rivera in the Secretaria. 

As a transition from the 'classical' character of the third-floor Pre- 
paratoria murals to the looser and more Expressionist quality of Orozco's 
next group of wall paintings, the drawings and easel pictures of this 
period, 1926-31, offer a strong body of material. Among the latter are 
some brilliantly designed, intense representations of the New York scene: 
subways, elevated railroads, street pictures, Coney Island, and so on, 
together with reminiscences of Revolutionary Mexico: soldiers, fallen 
columns, a family, a cemetery, reiterations of earlier subjects such as 
Peace and the Barricade, as well as the flamingly symbolic Pa?icho Villa 
and Zapata (fig. 36) . 

The last-named work shows how far Orozco had come within a few 
years from the carefully modeled, almost academically drawn figures of 
the 1923-6 period. Even had he not been in self-imposed exile during 
these years, one may imagine that his work would have taken on this 
somber quality, this sense of despair and futility; the economic collapse 
of 1929 no doubt augmented the feeling of misery and hopelessness. 
Very significant for the development of United States painting was this 
direct example of a social-conscious art on an extremely high level of 
symbolic and emotive quality, anticipating the perhaps less effective 
painters of the depression period here. 

As early as 1928 such titles appear as Eighth Avenue, The Subway, Four- 
teenth Street, The Elevated, Manhattan, and so on. 6 The following year the 
melancholy aspect of local life appears in some of his works, while others, 
such as the beautifully abstract Qiieensboro Bridge (fig. 37), seem to have 
no ulterior social purpose. By 1930, however, he returns to Mexicanism 
once more, as in the brooding, haunting ~apata, visible symbol of Mexico's 
despair and his own. His new figurative Expressionist style is now formed, 
and will be applied to the murals of this period and the one following. 

In 1930, after a few years in New York, Orozco finally received a com- 
mission to paint the far wall of the large student dining area known as 
Frary Hall in Pomona College near Los Angeles. In this huge pseudo- 
Gothic chamber, in a recess beyond a pointed arched opening, Orozco 
set forth his Prometheus — not without violent objections from local Cali- 

6 See Reed, op. cit. 



orozco. Queensboro Bridge, oil. 


fornians about the importation of a foreign artist. This was also the year 
that Rivera was vigorously opposed in San Francisco. 

Here Orozco presented the idea of Prometheus bringing the gift of fire 
to mankind, apparently conforming to the idea of learning being con- 
ferred on the sons and daughters of man. But the effect is of a tumultuous 
Last Judgment combined with Moses Bringing the Tablets of the Law, 
a frightening conception rather than a beneficent one (fig. 38). Mankind 
here is terrified into a seething, milling mass by the awful spectacle. In 
the center, the hero ascends from rich brown shadows in a series of 
grayish browns to the lurid reds of the flames above. His Tintorettesque 
body swings from left to right in a powerful diagonal that gives the im- 
pression of this titan supporting the heavens rather than drawing some- 
thing out of them. Mankind recedes from the gigantic figure in helpless 


waves and in varying degrees of terror, despair, smugness, and stiff- 
necked pride, depending on their respective reactions to the gift for which 
Prometheus has defied the gods. 

This is Orozco's commentary on man's reception of social progress, as 
symbolized by Prometheus and his gift. Although the general arrange- 
ment suggests a Last Judgment, the effect is a flaming symbol of man in 
the mass. This is the first of many times that Orozco paints a dominant 
central figure about which seethe hordes of sketchily indicated, writhing, 
agonized human beings. The mural of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the 
staircase fresco in the Palacio del Gobierno in Guadalajara, the Departure 
of Quetzcdcoatl in Dartmouth are later instances of this symbolism. 

Although the forms are still basically three-dimensional and figurative, 
there is considerable loosening (in the El Greco sense), especially in the 
masses of elongated, flamelike little figures that comprise the two sides 
of the composition. These two portions are compactly arranged, and cut 


orozco. Prometheus, fresco, frary hall, pomona college, California. 

I'HOTO Rom- RT <:. l-'R AMl'TO 

SB UlMUillLyiiil^^^ 

across the right and left sides of the enclosing arch at a point considerably 
below the raised arms of the giant. 

The twenty-five by thirty-five foot composition arranges itself into a 
kind of X shape as it sweeps across the wall. One line moves up from 
lower left through the main form of Prometheus and is continued by his 
right arm, which is paralleled by the upper part of the right-hand mass. 
The other line swings from the lower right across the body of the titan 
and up into his left arm, and is paralleled by the movement of the group 
at the left. 

As is often the case, this mural suggests a variety of different influences 
— El Greco, Tintoretto (especially examples in the Accademia, Venice), 
and others — but it does not derive specifically from such sources. Orozco's 
mural remains in every case an extremely personal statement, no matter 
how much the non-Mexican art world has affected this painter. The 
calligraphic style of individual forms in the crowds belongs to the sphere 
of modern Expressionist painting, comparable in form and purpose to 
the art of the twentieth-century Germans, although again not relatable 
to any particular artist or group. It is doubtful to what extent Orozco 
was aware of the existence of the German material. 

The side panels of the Pomona mural, not easily visible unless the 
spectator is close to the wall, are a poetic exposition of the relationship 
between Chaos and the Monsters and Chaos and the Gods. This kind of highly 
individual symbolism emerges in the later Hospicio at Guadalajara and 
the Hospital de Jesus in Mexico City. 

Toward the end of 1930, Orozco returned to New York to begin work 
on a series of murals in another institution of learning, the New School for 
Social Research. Here he came forward with a more explicit, although 
far differently expressed, portrayal of the global social situation, the 
revolutionary movement in various parts of the world — Russia, India, 
and Mexico. This franker statement was made possible by the nature of 
the school for which the painter was working, for here a broad social and 
international point of view has always been fostered. 

Thus the theme and execution of the murals in the third-floor refectory 
of the New School are the painter's own, with no restriction of any kind 
and with no serious fireworks resulting from the portrayal of Lenin, 
Stalin, British imperialism, or anything else. During 1930-31 Orozco 
worked out this international view in terms of a symmetrical and didactic 
presentation of such themes as the Table of Brotherhood, Struggle in the 
Orient, Struggle in the Occident, 1 The Universal Family, Science, Labor, and Art, 
and The Strike. 

As with previous instances in which architecture and painting had to 
be integrated, he showed, if not the most subtle solution of these problems, 
at least a realization that the two had to be related. In the Preparatoria 

7 In 1953, however, the New School hung a yellow curtain over Struggle in 
the Occident. 



the curved arches and rectangular panels are skillfully brought together, 
while in Pomona the figures arc arranged with regard to the upward and 
side-curving motion of the pointed arch leading to the recess. Here at 
the New School, in the first modern building Orozco was given to deco- 
rate, the problem was considerably different; both the simplified shapes 
of the structure and the universal nature of the theme seemed to demand 
a new type of solution. Moreover, the walls did not have a frame, as the 
two previous jobs had had. This meant that the painter had to relate his 
long narrow panels to the building as a whole rather than to any part 
thereof. Since this building is a highly rational and functional structure, 
the painting had to be conceived along those lines, with individual forms 
reduced to parts of a machinelike structure, especially in the areas where 
mass action was portrayed. Orozco has said that he was influenced in 
the solution of this problem by the geometrical principles in the dynamic 
symmetry system of Jay Hambidge. 8 

In the reduction of humanity to a series of machined parts or their 
analogue, Orozco abandoned — actually he had to abandon — the flaming 
Expressionist technique of Pomona in favor of a static formulation, which 
many critics dislike, since it departs from the Orozco norm of violent 
emotionality. Vet, in spite of the relatively static character of some 
sections, the mural represents a courageous and open-minded solution 
of a problem the painter had never before encountered. We may contrast 
the integrated action of the two related east and west revolutionary 
panels with the individualistic treatment of the contrasting north and 
south sections, dealing with brotherhood and the family respectively. 
Inevitably those showing Struggle in the Orient and Struggle in the Occident, 

Orozco, Autobiogrqfia. 



orozco. Struggle in the Occident, fresco. 



symbolizing the rise of the oppressed masses, stress the reduction of the 
individual to a cog in a political machine or movement. The other panels, 
which stress the function of man as an individual and his right to racial 
equality and a decent existence within the circle of his family, necessarily 
treat the human being in the picture space more freely. Although the 
figures in these two panels are still symbols — of race and of humanity in 
general — they are not the flat, overlapping, mechanized forms of the 
two revolutionary sections. 

Struggle in the Occident (fig. 39) balances the revolutionary movement 
in Russia at the right with the Mexican Revolution at the left. One 
section shows an impressive portrait of Lenin over a group of anonymous 
Soviet troops, with their winter caps pulled over their faces, while 
immediately adjacent to them is a similarly arranged group of the various 
races of the Soviet Union: Georgian (a portrait of Stalin), Negro, 
Armenian, Indian, and so on, all marching forward toward their goal. 
The left-hand portion features a somewhat spiritualized portrait of Felipe 
Carrillo Puerto, the murdered governor of Yucatan. The simple pyramid- 
al form is balanced by an actual pyramid, symbol of Carrillo Puerto's 
belief in the Indians, who are shown as a simplified integrated entity 
below him. They are arranged in a concave curve, with the pyramid 
theme introduced again through the group of blue figures in the center, 
which carries the eye back to the teacher figure above. Orozco stresses 
the quiet dignity of this reformist scene as opposed to the regimented 
forms of the Soviet section. For him the revolution is certainly more the 
idea of reform; he criticizes the Russian version in his paintings time and 
again, e.g. at the Hospicio in Guadalajara. 

On the opposite wall Struggle in the Orient uses India as an example of 


the colonial nations oppressed by the West. Here again masses of people 
are pressed into a geometrical unity — enclosing the chained natives of 
the East — while above them a second smaller block includes the captive 
white-collar workers. These two entities are connected with a third 
geometric arrangement immediately to the right, showing a group of 
armed, gas-masked soldiers above a stylized colonial officer, all facing 
to the right and confronting a seated Gandhi. The latter is reduced to a 
right-angled triangle, and is seen against the outline of a tank that carries 
the eye back to the soldiers. Even more than on the west wall, there is a 
feeling here of diagonal and horizontal pistonlike movements which lend 
mechanized strength to the well-integrated composition. Color plays 
an unusually important part as it controls the backward and forward 
movements in space. 

Between these two long horizontal panels is a third, far simpler, ar- 
rangement, the Table of Brotherhood, in which a glaring white table in 
reverse perspective moves up and down across the surface of the wall 
and unites the races of mankind around it. These figures are simplified 
into monumentalized block forms which have a crude simplicity and 
force. Among these compressed essences of the world's races the painter 
has placed in a special background niche the representatives of particular- 
ly oppressed groups: Mexican, Negro, and Jewish. This is the brotherhood 
of man that the revolutions will accomplish, in addition to the decent 
family life symbolized on the wall directly opposite. 

By comparison with the brooding monumentality of the Table of 
Brotherhood, the Universal Family is a decorative and abstract conception 
utilizing the forms of pre-Cubist primitivism. Two workers come home 
to a waiting wife and mother; at the left in another group a beautifully 
painted woman is seen with two children. Between these two groups, a 
unifying gray-white table is shown (as on the wall opposite) uptilted in 
reverse perspective and garnished with a symbolic still life of food and 
books whose form suggests the Picasso-Braque Africanisms of around 1907. 
The panel outside the refectory, allegorizing Science, Labor, and Art, and 
the pseudo-symbolic worker's tools used to formulate the idea of Strike 
arc the least successful portions of the work in this building. 

Earl)' in 1932 Orozco was called to Dartmouth College in Hanover, 
New Hampshire, to do a trial mural on a wall section about fifty feet in 
area over a doorway in the hall connecting the Baker Library and the 
Carpenter Art Building. For this square space he worked out a subject 
called Release, in which a hopeful, bright-eyed youth emerges from a 
wreckage heap of machine parts, broken cannons, and the like, dusting 
his hands briskly as he springs upward out of the mass. 

On the basis of this satisfactory trial, Orozco was given the contract for 
the entire wall space in the reserve room of the Baker Library, an area 
of about 3000 square feet and a real challenge. The narrative and alle- 
gorical panels done here between 1932 and 1934 are in many ways the 





most exciting Orozco murals in the United States. Fourteen basic 
subjects have been conceived as a unit, with many themes arranged in 
a parallel and contrapuntal manner. They move in simple and dignified 
fashion from one panel to the next, along a flat wall with no architectural 
embellishments and with only an occasional door or ventilator to inter- 
rupt the flat even spaces. 

The general theme of the Dartmouth murals is the history of America, 
seen as a blend of aboriginal and European elements and offering in 
juxtaposition the accomplishments of the precolonial past and those of 
the white man who followed. Part i of this epic (fig. 40) deals with the 
ancient culture of Mexico, along the short and long walls of the west 
wing. Part ii, the contribution of the white man, runs along corresponding 
east- wing walls. 

Surveying the whole, we find outlined in the first section the story of 
Quetzalcoatl, chief deity of the ancient precolonial peoples of Mexico, 
the great teacher and bringer of the arts, crafts, and civilization in 
general. He arrives in that precolonial world to confound the superstitions 
and barbarism of the old medicine men and offers a new, more civilized 
way of life. But since the people of Mexico soon relapse into their former 
habits as the influence of the witch doctors becomes strong again, Que- 
tzalcoatl leaves in anger. Departing on a raft of serpents, he goes to the 
east, from which he had come originally, promising to return in five 
hundred years. From this ancient culture we look across to the east wing, 
where the contribution of the white man is set forth. The story is told of 
the arrival of Cortez and the Church, the age of the machine, the re- 
spective cultures of Anglo-American and Spanish America, the drying 
up of education, the Unknown Soldier, and, in the final scene, the return 
of Christ to destroy His own Cross. 

Examining these works in detail, we see, on the short wall of the west 



wing, the first two scenes: The Migration and Ancient Human Sacrifice. The 
first indicates the connection between ancient America and the Orient, 
and shows the various types of aboriginal humanity. The general effect 
is one of gigantism and ruthlessness as the three groups of ten-foot-high 
nudes move in overlapping planes across the surface. The torrent of 
powerful humanity in a low-keyed brown-and-gray color scheme, with 
occasional touches of pink and blue, pours from one continent into the 

The superstitions of ancient life are shown in the second scene through 
the human sacrifice made to the war god Huitzilopochtli. Masked priests 
surround the victim, who is arranged X-wise on the sacrificial block, and 
hold him spread-eagled as the officiating priest tears out his heart, with 
the ominous figure of the god dominating the background. In this 
Ancient Human Sacrifice, the forms themselves are still primarily brown, 
with white accents for the clothed figures in the foreground and spots of 
Pompeian red in the same area, green in the background, and masks 
colored red, green, purple, and black. Gompositionally it is more tightly 
organized than the constantly moving Migration preceding it, closed 
where the other is open. 

Moving on to the long west wall, we encounter over the doorway the 
brooding Aztec Warriors. These are the conquerors, the empire builders 
and militarists of ancient Mexico, whose counterparts, the European 
conquerors, one finds at the opposite end of this same wall and again 
over a door. Here the short, rectangular panel with its abbreviated fig- 
ures shows the Indian warriors carrying flags of silver and feathers and 
dressed in traditional hoods in the shape of snakes, tigers, and eagles. 

This long wall of the west wing is divided into three main sections: 
The Coming of Quetzalcoatl, the (pre-Columbian) Golden Age, and the 
Departure oj Quetzalcoatl. It terminates in the short panel over the far door 
showing The Prophecy, which balances the short Aztec Warriors over the 
near door. 

The first of the three main scenes is perhaps the least satisfactory in this 
wing. It features the horrified face of the great ruler and teacher Quetzal- 
coatl, a brilliant, white-robed, Orientalized figure with blazing blue eyes, 
who appears against a background of ancient gods arranged in a row 
across the rear of the panel. The forms of the older gods are taken from 
stone carvings and represent the deity of Greed, dressed in the purple- 
brown skins of his victims; olive-green Magic, with white feet of smoking 
mirrors; Rain and Storm (Tlaloc) with his green double-serpent masks; 
black Death with a skeletal mask; blue War with the feathered feet of 
stealth; and pink Fire. Quetzalcoatl appears over the pyramids of 
Teotihuacan, important site of his cult. All the god figures are in the 
upper half of the panel. Below we find two groups of brownish humans, 
their dull color in strong contrast to the tonalities above. The group at 
the left shows sleeping individuals who symbolize the past; on the right, 


a number of people converse in the shadow of a magnificently geometri- 
cized structure and represent the communion and co-operative activity 
of mankind. With this scene the general color key has been raised con- 
siderably higher than before, especially in the reds and blues of the gods, 
while the foreground shows a combination of rich browns combined with 
cool grays. The abstract house at the right is particularly effective with 
its modulated red-pinks. 

The Golden Age (fig. 41) initiated by the coming of Quetzalcoatl consists 
of three main figures representing Industry, Art, and Science. The first 
of these, a powerful brown block form, is bent over some maize. Near 
him is a strongly stylized figure carving Aztec symbols on gray stone 
blocks, a form that parallels the shape and angularity of the stones 
themselves. Finally, behind the blocks of stone, a half-seen figure with its 
eyes closed thrusts an arm upward into the future to symbolize the 
science that will ultimately come (cf. the rising form in the abstract mural 
of the Normal School, 1947-8). 


orozco. The Golden Age. fresco, west wing, baker library. 

;^y' J A , vi iiiliiiiii 


The Departure of (hietzalcoatl (fig. 42) is motivated by the plotting of the 
priests and magicians to impose the old superstitions. Ancient practices 
such as human sacrifice are re-established and are followed by war, sickness, 
and the final end of the ancient civilization. From these events stems the 
high point in these murals, and one of the high points in Orozco's art — the 
ominous and prophetic departure of the god, a vivid, white, Michel- 
angelesque figure against a dark sky, making his fateful and challenging 
gesture to the right, to the future. Balancing this violent rightward sweep 
of the god's right arm and the writhing movement of the serpents about 
him is the counterwave of frightened dark figures at the left — the priests, 
arranged in an ascending pyramid of raised arms and bent bodies (cf. the 
Pomona mural and the later Guadalajara example in the Palacio del 
Gobierno). The use of the pyramid, both architectural and human, has 
a symbolic and climactic purpose, underlined by the progression of color 
intensity from bottom to top in each case. The building goes from 
Pompeian red at the bottom to red-pink at the top, the human pyramid 
from gray-brown to fiat white. 

The awesome gesture of Quetzalcoatl, reminiscent of that of the 
creative God in the Sistine ceiling frescoes, keynotes the remainder of the 
representations in the library. It leads the eye first to The Prophecy, which 


orozco. Departure of (hietzalcoatl. fresco, west wing, baker library. 


presumably fulfills QuetzalcoatPs promise to return with other white 
gods to set up a new civilization. Here, in a short mural over the doorway, 
is a symbol of European culture in general and of the conquest in partic- 
ular. It shows armed soldiers and armored horses, the men carrying a 
stone Cross with reinforced pointed ends. This group appears against an 
arrangement of Romanesque and Doric columns and capitals that 
symbolize European civilization. This mural may be compared with the 
balancing small panel, Aztec Warriors, at the other end of this wall, 
symbolizing Aztec civilization. 

The second section of the Dartmouth murals, in the east wing, deals 
with the general theme of the return of Quetzalcoatl, as symbolized by 
cultural manifestations since the time of Cortez. The diversity and com- 
plexity of this post-Columbian period bring a quicker tempo and a 
stepped-up color key, with a compositional change from masses of people 
to a stress on the individual leader, hero, or sufferer. This entire section 
carries a strong note of pessimism, ending on the sacrifices of World War 
I and the Christ Destroying His Cross, intended to show that this is not the 
civilization of man's hope, that the white god of peace has not yet re- 

This section begins with the rectangular Cortez and the Cross, an im- 
pressive black-clad, gray-visaged figure who, by a strange coincidence, 
arrived in Mexico at the exact time set by ancient legend for the return 
of Quetzalcoatl. Immediately behind Cortez is the great green Cross, 
held by a monk dressed in black. In the pinkish background are the 
burning ships. About the central figure are the wreckage of the older 
civilization and the bodies of the conquered, many of which are being 
fed into The Machine at the right. 

This last is the arch-symbol of the New World for Orozco and one to 
which he will return many times, in the Palacio de Bellas Artes mural, 
in those of Guadalajara, and elsewhere. The machine, denoting the white 
man's contribution to America, is by no means a happy representation 
but a jagged broken symbol in black and white, relieved here and there 
by dark red spots. Not only is man fed into the maw of this splintery 
monster, but the general picture of the machine is one of powerful and 
conflicting mechanical forces that obliterate man. Although some of the 
forms are recognizable as smelters, turbines, and so on, the intent is 
symbolic and dehumanizing, introducing another age of confusion. 

In Orozco's art, the machine is often something alive and malignant, 
not merely a series of streamlined forms. Thus, instead of turning man- 
kind into robotlike figures, Orozco gives the machines themselves a 
specific emotional quality through their coloration, function, and dis- 
tortion. He is not primarily concerned with the aesthetic possibilities of 
the machine, as are the post-Cubist painters, but rather with its moral 
and psychological connotations. Nor does he glorify it in the fashion of 
Diego Rivera's work at Detroit during this same period. To Rivera the 

I 1 

machine is the potential savior of mankind that will bring the better life. 
The contrast between the glossy forms of Rivera's turbines on the en- 
trance wall of the Detroit court and the menacing black forms of turbines 
here represents the contrast between two divergent methods of paintin» 
and thinking. 

The next scenes, Anglo-America and Hispano- America, are on a perhaps 
less effective plane than the preceding ones to the degree that they 
contain clear elements of caricature. These two sections, like the following 
Gods of the Modern World, also offer direct criticism of the host nation and 
the host institution. 

In Anglo-America a blank-faced, unpleasant-looking schoolteacher is 
surrounded by equally uninspiring youngsters. For Orozco, they reflect 
the supposed regimentation of American society, while the undistinguished 
forms in the town meeting at the left represent a kind of lifeless co- 
operation. The patch of yellow wheat at the lower left (comparable to a 
similar area in the Golden Age) is connected with the yellow in the upper 
right of the preceding composition and with the gold in the Hispano- 
America following. 

The latter features the idealized bandit hero, a combination of the 
Zapata and Pancho Villa types that Orozco had done in easel paintings 
during 1930-31. Its intent is to contrast the dynamic revolutionary with 
the sheeplike schoolteacher. The brooding, brutal figure of the Mexican 
is surrounded by distorted leering millionaires and imperialist soldiers 
sprawling over tumbling heaps of gold. Fallen broken columns and a 
wrecked factory in red represent the havoc wreaked by these creatures. 

The Gods of the Modern World, i.e. modern education, may be contrasted 
with the earlier panel in which Ouetzalcoatl brought real knowledge. 
Here is Orozco's protest against traditional teaching, with the gowned 
collegiate figures seen as Posada-like calaveras. These forms surround a 
skeleton lying on heavy tomes, from whose womb stillborn knowledge 
issues with the aid of these academic midwives. The gowned gods of the 
modern world — Factual Knowledge, the Scientific and Materialistic 
Outlook, and so on — are seen against a world in flames (cf. the back- 
ground color of Cortez's ships in flames) . The yellow skeleton leads us to 
the next panel — from a denunciation of intellectual slavery to a portrayal 
of political and spiritual bondage. 

The two last panels are on the short wall of the east wing and are 
visible through the two square piers at the end of that space. Modern 
Human Sacrifice (cf. Ancient Human Sacrifice earlier) shows an orator glorify- 
ing war, accompanied by a brass band and flags. Before him, draped in 
a flag, lies the unknown sacrifice to the war, the skeletonized dead 
soldier. His feet face the spectator; his body is hidden under a heap of 
wreaths; and in the background are a war memorial and flags. 

The other panel shows Christ Destroying His Cross (fig. 43). The militant 
Christ represents an aroused and fighting spirituality towering above the 



orozco. Christ Destroying His Cross, fresco, east wing, baker library. 

I 1 3 

hcapcd-up and destroyed religious symbols of all ages — Greek, Buddhist, 
and especially Christian — which He apparently repudiates as not genuine. 
This impressive figure, with its staring eyes, blue-streaked face, reddish 
hair and beard, has a yellowish torso tinted with orange, green, blue, 
purple, and purple-gray from the awesome head to the horribly torn legs 
below. In pose and aggressive emotionality it reminds us of Piero della 
Francesca's Resurrection of Christ. Its drawing and contained spirituality 
suggest the eleventh-century Byzantine mosaics of Daphni and later 
examples at Mt. Athos. The spirit of this Christ is that of an avenging 
judge or Pantocrator (ruler of the universe) who here returns to earth 
to find His Cross misused, to find in the broken tools of destruction 
evidences of wars fought in His name. He has therefore destroyed the 
Cross, and now confronts the spectator with a frightening and questioning 
look. Thus the series is brought to a close. 

The three additional panels in the central vestibule may have been 
intended to tie together the entire project in a kind of spiritual climax. 
Here Orozco represents Modern Industrial Man, an ideologically significant 
figure through whom the new civilization prophesied by Quetzalcoatl 
might perhaps be achieved. Although composed without benefit of direct 
light, these panels have a very successful decorative quality. The dark 
figures are seen against modulated green backgrounds and reddish metal 
structures. The side portions offer semi-allegorical arrangements of iron 
and steel construction, while the central section shows a reclining worker 
against an architectural background, utilizing his leisure time to read. 
Though they are deliberately less dynamic in mood and arrangement, 
these panels have a feeling of quiet sorrow typical of Orozco at his best. 

During the course of this job (summer, 1932) and again after its 
completion, Orozco visited Europe. By February 1934, he had returned 
to Mexico to take his place in a new political and aesthetic configuration. 

1 I I 

1924 to 1934 


The years between the Preparatoria dismissals in 1924 and the end of the 
Calles period in 1934 also mark a coming of age for Siqueiros. From the 
meager fragments that comprise his work of the previous period Siqueiros 
extended his activity during this phase — when politics and the labor 
movement monopolized most of his time — to include additional murals, 
a considerable number of easel pictures, and a quantity of graphics. 
While Rivera shifted back and forth between a passive and an active 
political role and Orozco defined his Revolutionary concepts in the 
paintings already examined, Siqueiros, driven first from the capital and 
finally from Mexico itself, remained a constant factor in the social evolu- 
tion of that country and its art. It was in those years also that his new 
theories and techniques found their initial application. 

With the completion of the first murals at the Preparatoria, Siqueiros 
and a number of associates left for Guadalajara. There he worked for 
some time as assistant to Amado de la Cueva and Carlos Orozco Romero 
on a contract for decoration of the University and State Capitol build- 
ings. Meanwhile, Governor Zuno (sponsor of the 1919 Congress of 
Soldier Artists) also commissioned a new house for himself; Guerrero did 
most of the decorative work and Zuno himself participated. These people, 
together with the followers of Siqueiros who had accompanied him to 
Guadalajara (e.g. Roberto Reyes Perez), could have created an artistic 
movement in that city. But Siqueiros lost interest, at least for the time 
being, and his dynamic energy and leadership were channeled into the 
social struggle, which he felt was the only way of guaranteeing the artist 
a place in society. 

For a while Siqueiros was involved in this short-lived local renaissance; 
he worked under de la Cueva at the University, made designs for the 
workmen who were carving furniture and doors in Zuno's house, and 
drew up plans for a market building. When, shortly after the University- 
project had begun, de la Cueva was killed in a motorcycle accident and 
a few months later Zuno was overthrown, Siqueiros was once more out 
of work as an artist. 

During this time Siqueiros had helped direct the miners' strike at 
Cinco Minas and had assisted in establishing the Miners' Syndicate in 
various parts of the state of Jalisco. In this connection he published a paper 




sioueiros. Proletarian Mother, oil 



called El Martillo (The Hammer), with drawings, poems, and stories 
contributed by workers. By 1927 he was so active in the labor movement 
that he was chairman of a delegation of Mexican miners to an internation- 
al congress in Moscow. (Rivera was in Moscow that same year, showing 
the Soviets how to paint revolutionary pictures.) The following year 
Siqueiros became Secretary General of the Confederacion Sindical Uni- 
taria de Mexico, and took a leading role in all the important strike 
movements. In 1929, while a delegate of the Mexican unions to the 
Continental Workers Congress at Montevideo, he got to Buenos Aires, 
where he was soon arrested and expelled from Argentina. 

In 1930, as a result of participation in a rather violent May Day 
demonstration, he was imprisoned for about a year in Mexico City. 
During this period and the following year, which was spent under police 
surveillance in Taxco, Siqueiros returned to his art. First there was the 
series of thirteen woodcuts published in 1931 in Taxco by William 
Spratling. Here also Siqueiros came into contact with Sergei Eisenstein, 
the Soviet film director then at work on his famous Que Viva Mexicol 
(issued in emasculated form in 1933 as Thunder over Mexico). From this 
unusual personality, Siqueiros acquired his interest in the motion-picture 
camera and its aesthetics, as well as a concern with the relation of 
psychology, chemistry, and biology to the plastic arts — all very important 
for his later development. George Gershwin, the brilliant United States 
composer, was also in Taxco at this time, as was Hart Crane, the poet. 
Siqueiros's portrait of the composer at the piano was done in 1936; his 
1931 portrait of Crane was later slashed to bits by the poet in a fit of 

The paintings done during these few years run parallel with Siqueiros's 
absorption of influences from pulqueria paintings and other folk arts, and 
continue to show the previously mentioned effect of Aztec masks, with 
their highly polished surfaces. These works exhibit, in addition, the 
fruits of Siqueiros's six years as labor organizer — for example, the well- 
known oil, Proletarian Mother (fig. 44) of 1929. Here one may compare the 
features of the sculpturesquely modeled mother with those of the men 
carrying the coffin in the earlier Burial of a Worker (see fig. 13). There is 
also an extension from specifically Revolutionary themes to others that 
deal with everyday life raised to a high level of social and pictorial 
significance. Little anonymous forms bend over the eyeless mother in her 
magnificent sorrow and tension; the entire group is enclosed within the 
encroaching walls, to which the rhythms of the encircling arms and 
heads offer a powerful counter-movement. These general subjects of 
1929-31, such as the Peasant Mother, the Portrait of a Dead Child, or the 
Proletarian Mother, have a monumental tragedy of their own. They sum 
up the sorrow of the Mexican people in a new and simpler way. 

In 1932, continuing differences with the Mexican government caused 
Siqueiros to leave the country. He went to Los Angeles, where, in the 


course of teaching a mural-painting class at the Chouinard Art School, 
he did his Meeting in the Street, a painting that has since disintegrated, 
owing to the poor materials used. This mural was designed by Siqueiros 
and was carried out by a group of assistants and pupils — the first example 
of the Siqueiros painting team, or equipo. Among these are a number who 
have since acquired their own importance as artists: Millard Sheets, Paul 
Sample, Barse Miller, Merrell Gage, Phil Paradise, Tom Beggs, and 

In this project the spray gun was brought into play to project Siquciros's 
fresco paints on a cement-and-sand base, which dried much more 
rapidly than the traditional lime-and-sand combination. Existing re- 
productions of this mural 1 show massive figures and heads that give an 
impression of sorrow and force. An orator on his soapbox harangues the 
worker audience listening from their scaffold and from the roof of the 
building on which they are working. He faces his listeners, who are 
spread out before him in a kind of Street Scene set, giving the work a some- 
what staged and theatrical character that takes a good deal away from it, 
as does the too heavy genre quality. 

The 1932 mural 2 in the patio of the Dudley Murphy residence in 
Santa Monica shows how the Mexican Revolution had turned against 
itself by the time of Calles. This Portrait of Mexico, in the home of a movie 
director, is dominated by a huge receding pyramid with two women and 
a child on its steps. At the left a 'Revolutionary' peasant-soldier, with a 
mask (hypocrisy) hanging from his neck and a cluster of money bags at 
his feet, clearly reveals the face of ex-President Calles, then the power 
behind the Mexican government. 

During that same year Siqueiros executed a mural for the Plaza Art 
Center in Los Angeles on a dark cement ground, again with the spray 
gun and this time with a team of thirty-five United States painters. This 
third example of outdoor-mural painting, done on a space forty-eight 
feet by ninety feet, begins to point toward a realization that most of the 
earlier Mexican murals, inside semi-public buildings such as the Pre- 
paratoria or the Ministry of Education, were not being seen by 'the 
people,' for whom they were presumably intended. Tropical America, done 
in five months with Duco (du Pont Company) industrial paint on Port- 
land cement, was the result of Siquciros's introduction to the industrial 
techniques of the United States, which apparently gave him an element 
lacking in his art up to that point. 

Having begun to feel the ostensibly 'archaic' quality of Mexican mural 
art (according to him, the use of traditional media in traditional build- 
ings), he reasoned that the new language of art, a worker's language, 

1 'California Group Studies Fresco Technique with Siqueiros,' Art Digest, 
N. Y., vol. 6, no. ig, i Aug. 1932, p. 13. 

2 'White Walls and a Fresco in California,' Arts & Decoration, vol. 41, no. 2, 
June 1934. 


should be expressed in the materials of the modern world. He turned to 
outdoor murals, paintings in weather-resistant pigments on either white 
or natural-colored cement, instead of the traditional slow-drying fresco 
base. Using a film projector for the outlines and an airbrush for the large 
surfaces and for modeling the various details — since the cement dried so 
rapidly — he advanced during 1932 to his most characteristic methods 
and techniques, to the procedures that differentiate him so sharply from 
most of his contemporaries. Still lacking at this time was a satisfactory 
outdoor paint that would withstand rain and sun. 

The Plaza Art Center mural showed a crucified peon, a United States 
eagle perched aggressively at the top of the cross, and a group of Mexi- 
cans standing below, shooting at the eagle. The ensuing scandal caused 
the mural to be whitewashed over, and Siqueiros to leave Los Angeles. 
From a design point of view, this mural marked a serious advance over 
earlier works in the counterpoint of rectangular and curved areas and the 
subordination of the figure to its geometrical background. It was also 
important as one of the first instances of Siqueiros's later characteristic 
recessive pyramid, seen much more vividly in the Chilian murals (see 
fig. 94). We may notice, incidentally, the brusque directness with which 
Siqueiros challenged the maltreatment of Mexicans in the United 
States, in contrast to the contemporaneous blandness of the also Marxist 
Rivera in San Francisco or the symbolic criticism of Orozco at Pomona. 

In 1933 Siqueiros was in Argentina to give lectures on Mexican 
painting. Since the country was already under military dictatorship, the 
painter spent a short period in jail, but was then permitted to do a mural 
in the residence of Don Natalio Botana, editor of La Critica, in the town 
of Don Torquato. This work, the so-called Plastic Study* brings the 
painter closer to his mature approach by the addition of silicate paints 
on dry cement (an important step forward in the realization of imperme- 
able media) and by the use of a curved concave surface. With the latter 
innovation there begins to emerge Siqueiros's tremendous interest in 
achieving a certain dynamics of movement that will allow the spectator 
to participate from within the spaces of the mural by means of its more 
active, i.e. curved, surfaces. This highly stylized work, with its strongly 
moving female nudes, its primitive masks and sea shells, was done with 
the aid of a number of Argentinian artists. 

This phase of the painter's life ended with his violent attack on the 
Rivera New Workers School murals as a 'betrayal of Marxism' (see 
above, Chap. vin). Siqueiros also attacked the diluted Renaissancism of 
Rivera's painting, its lack of originality and ignoring of modern media. 
Those media Siqueiros himself was developing during the latter part of 
that period, and he continued to develop them from then on. 

3 Illustrated in the monograph, Siqueiros, Instituto Xacional de Bellas Artes, 
Mexico, 1 95 1, fig. 37. 

1 1 9 


Mural Versus Easel Painting 
1924 In 1934 

The abrupt termination of the first government mural projects in 1924, 
the dissolution of the Syndicate in 1925, and the general swing to the 
right during the 1924-34 Calles period furnish the background for the 
new non-Revolutionary easel painting of that era. 

Although Mexican painting had been 'modernized' to a slight extent 
during the early Revolutionary years through adoption of the Impression- 
ist methods of Ramos Martinez, the rapid growth of a socially conscious 
mural art with its specific representational problems arrested that develop- 
ment. Instead of a continuing awareness of the modern school of Paris, 
there was the powerful and lasting impact of the Rivera school of Rev- 
olutionary art. During these early years Orozco was pointing toward a 
personally evolved Expressionism, without knowledge (so far as we can 
tell) of its Central European counterpart; the mature art of Siqueiros still 
lay in the future. 

Shut off from the kind of outside influence that was operative in the 
United States during this period, Mexico, because of its Revolutionary 
problems and its ever-growing nationalism, remained an aesthetic island. 
This nationalism, plus the Syndicate belief that easel painting had out- 
lived itself, combined to keep post-Impressionist, Cubist, Fauve, and 
other contemporary influences out of Mexico. These factors are perhaps 
also responsible for the fact that there is no museum of modern art in 
Mexico today. Indeed, until recently there have been very few art 
galleries. Foreign influences came in — if at all — through illustrated 
magazines and color reproductions, whenever available. 

Against this background of aesthetic isolation we come to the 1924-34 
period, when the mural movement was forcibly repressed (with excep- 
tions as mentioned) and the artistic momentum had to find a different 
outlet. During the late 'twenties a literary group called Los Contempo- 
raneos (The Contemporaries) was formed, with the idea of combating 
Mexicanism and trying to arouse interest in an international rather than 
a nationalist culture. In the review of the same name that they published 
from 1928 to 1931 were included essays and verses by such outstanding 
figures as Celestino Gorostiza, J. Torres Bodet (a future Minister of 
Education and Director General of UNESCO), Xavicr Villaurrutia 
(distinguished Tamayo biographer), and Jorge Cuesta. There were 


offerings by such noteworthy foreign writers as T. S. Eliot, Langston 
Hughes, Paul Valery, and Rainer Maria Rilke. 

In art The Contemporaries reproduced the works of Picasso, Braque, 
di Chirico, and others among the Europeans (Villaurrutia said that di 
Chirico had been the greatest influence in his life, an influence he ap- 
parently transmitted to his friend Agustin Lazo). Among Mexican 
painters, they featured the work of Manuel Rodriguez Lozano, who was 
influenced by Picasso's classical drawing and the Purist movement; Carlos 
Merida, increasingly drawn to the abstract Expressionism of Klee; 
Agustin Lazo and Carlos Orozco Romero, both influenced by Surrealism; 
Gabriel Fernandez Ledesma, an eclectic modernist; Julio Castellanos, 
clearly affected by the neo-Classicism of France and Italy during the 
'twenties; and Rufino Tamayo, perhaps the outstanding easel painter of 
Mexico. Tamayo combines with his Mexican-derived background a 
number of elements stemming from Matisse, Braque, and Picasso; he 
brings these various factors together in an extremely personal and poetic 

Although it is difficult to select from the variegated European in- 
fluences any one type to characterize Mexican painting during this epoch, 
the art of Julio Castellanos and that of Agustin Lazo typify a monumental 
and classically oriented form which seems to predominate. Sometimes 
this form takes on a Surrealist flavor, as in the distinctive works of 
Orozco Romero; elsewhere it assumes a more poetic quality, as in Lazo, 
a solemn hieratic character as in Castellanos, or a mystical essence as in 
Rodriguez Lozano. But all these men place definite emphasis on the large, 
isolated, and quiet form (unlike the increasingly abstract and decorative 
tendencies of Merida and Tamayo) which may be compared with that 
of a second monumentalist group of painters in another part of Mexico. 

This latter group, known as Bohemia, in the city of Guadalajara, 
belongs to the same historical period. It includes among its founders such 
personalities as Jose Guadalupe Zuno, ex-governor of Jalisco and patron 
of the arts, and among later members Raul Anguiano and Jesus Gue- 
rrero Galvan. These painters were influenced by a rather important 
German book devoted to New Objectivity or Magic Realism, Franz 
Roh's Mach-Expressionismus, published in Leipzig in 1925 and presented 
in Spanish as Realismo A'Idgico: post-expressionismo in 1927. From this 
formulation of a clearly delineated three-dimensional form in an aura of 
disillusionment, from the comparable neo-Classicism of Picasso and 
others in France and the valori plastici painters of contemporary Italy, 
came the chief impulse for Mexican easel painting of the late 'twenties 
and the 'thirties. 

We may envisage this intellectual reaction against muralism in Mexico 
as also partaking of the bitter wine of postwar — in their case post- 
Revolutionary, or Calles period — disenchantment. L ndoubtedly many 
of these men, especially those in Los Contemporaneos, objected to what 


seemed to them the stridency of Mexican Revolutionary art. But it is 
worth noticing that many, including Merida, Tamayo, Castellanos, and 
Rodriguez Lozano, had been teachers in the open-air schools in the 
early 'twenties. Moreover, none of them ever lost sight of his ancient 
heritage, however much influenced by modern French and other forms 
of painting. 

The monumentalism of Julio Castellanos, for example, with all its 
reminiscences of European postwar classicism, has a specific Mexican 
quality as well. His first magnificent nude compositions, dating between 
1928 and 1933, show typical Mexican physical forms but no desire on 
the part of the artist to create picturesque folk types. They betray a poetic 
melancholy and a plastic definition that represent his and Mexico's ver- 
sion of this international style. Castellanos, who was a follower of Rodri- 
guez Lozano, is important not only for his successful formulation of 
Mexican Magic Realism but also as a teacher who has influenced many 
younger men and fostered public art consciousness. One of his best- 
known paintings, The Dialogue (Philadelphia Museum, fig. 45), illus- 
trates in a touching manner the mixture of strong form and controlled 
poetic feeling. 

Along the same lines Manuel Rodriguez Lozano, a little older than his 
pupil, represents a similar interest in monumental form of a generally 
Mexicanist but nonpolitical character. We may distinguish between 
earlier works of this type (from the 'twenties and early 'thirties) and his 
more formalized Picasso-influenced linear paintings since the middle 
'thirties, when he began to develop his own brand of mysticism. This is 
clearly exemplified in the 1945 mural, What Have They Done to the People, 
painted for the residence of Francisco Sergio Iturbe (Orozco's patron 
on the House of Tiles mural). Rodriguez Lozano's style has proceeded 
along the same general path evident in the disturbing mural Pieta in the 
Mexico City Penitentiary and a considerable number of completely 
personal easel paintings, such as the 1947 The Parting (artist's collection, 
fig. 46). Here his somewhat strained symbolic quality emerges in the 
starkly designed white horse and blue-garbed man approached by 
women with mystic gestures, the upper portions of their figures in white, 
the lower sections in blue or green. The greater part of this picture has 
a grayish-black background to reinforce its emotional purpose. 

Jesus Guerrero Galvan may be included in this monumentalized- 
form group; since the late 'twenties he has produced a number of rather 
sweetly colored and poetic compositions. Like Castellanos he contributes 
to the second wave of mural painting in the 'thirties, imparting to his 
murals the same general quality found in his easel pictures, e.g. the 
Image of Mexico (1950, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. fig. 47). The gentle 
poetry of the self-contained figure with two sleeping children about her 
is augmented by the equally mild colors — gray-blues, violets, and reddish 
ochres. Guerrero Galvan's painting of the 'thirties exhibits a somewhat 




castellanos. The Dialogue, oil. 



more formal and sculpturesque quality than is found in many of his later 
easel works, which tend increasingly toward the decorative. His 1942 
mural at the University of New Mexico, Union of the Americas Joined by 
Liberty, and the 1952 work in the National Electrical Commission Build- 
ing near Chapultepec Park in Mexico City still show the adherence to the 
classicism of Picasso characteristic of the late 'twenties. 

On the Surrealist side is the influential Carlos Orozco Romero, who 
came to Mexico City in 1925 after a year of European travel. With Carlos 
Merida he directed the Galeria de Arte Moderno, which can be credited 
with the first important exhibitions of the work of Jose Clemente Orozco 



Rodriguez lozano. The Parting, oil. 


and Rufino Tamayo. Since the early 'thirties both Orozco Romero and 
Tamayo have been doing French-influenced figure painting in which 
color and abstract form have been of paramount importance. By the 
middle 'thirties Orozco Romero had added a Surrealist humor and 
fantasy that give his work its unique quality in the Mexican school, e.g. 
Los Hilos (1939, National Institute of Fine Arts, fig. 48). Here imaginative 
forms, deep space penetration, and vivid coloristic expression are brought 
together. (Apart from the Contemporaneos group is the formal Surrealist 
work of the late Frida Kahlo, which is closely related to the European 



Guerrero galvan. Image of Mexico. OIL. 


tradition and in many instances shows structural ability of a high 

To the degree that Magic Realism verges on Surrealist expression, 
Agustin Lazo may be linked with the latter group. A talented scenic 
designer as well as painter, he contributed during 1931-2 a series of 
brilliant designs for the Teatro de Orientacion, which was under the 
direction of Celestino Gorostiza of the Contemporaneos. Here, as in their 
magazine, this company of intellectuals, by presenting the works of 
Pirandello, Giraudoux, Molnar, and other non-Mexican playwrights, 
did a great deal to diversify the cultural interests of their country. 




To the Surrealism of Orozco Romero and Lazo must be added the 
Abstract Surrealism of Carlos Merida, which belongs to the same epoch 
and general development in the late 'twenties and early 'thirties. After 
early training in the studios of Paris (Van Dongen and Modigliani), the 
Guatemalan Merida came to the United States during the First World 
War, and developed here his first series of folklore pictures. These were 
shown in Mexico in 1921 and had tremendous impact and subsequent 
influence on the growing nativist movement. 

After his association with the Syndicate and its dissolution in 1925, 
Merida went back to Europe in 1927, where he produced his famous 
Images de Guatemala. At this point his earlier nativist style, e.g. the lyrically 
primitivistic Farm Hands of 1924, changed in the direction of an increas- 
ingly abstract and Surrealist formulation. In the well-known Profiles 



merida. Watercolor no. 29. 



watercolor he juxtaposed a number of outlined figures — similar to those 
in his earlier works — around one large profiled head that suggests Aztec 
painting. By the early 'thirties his watercolors had lost much of their 
relationship to concrete forms and move first in the direction of Kandinsky 
in an emotive play of nonobjective forms and then toward Klee with a 
humorous and evocative arrangement of more concrete shapes (fig. 49). 
Merida has had great influence as an example and as a teacher. He has 
led a constant series of experimental developments that have perpetuated 
among Mexicans the idea of painting as painting. 

Before Merida turned away from folkloric painting during the 'thirties, 
Rufino Tamayo seems to have been the first to bring up the question of 
easel painting and to have advanced the idea of painting for its own sake. 
Born of Zapotec parents in Oaxaca in southwestern Mexico, Tamayo 
passed his childhood in the tropics — a fact that, in the words ofVillau- 


rrutia, 'filled his hands with color.' 1 When he lost his parents, he came to 
Mexico City to live with an aunt, who worked as a fruit seller. In helping 
at this work, he received vivid formal and coloristic impressions of the 
excitingly tinted and arranged fruits that appear so often in his later paint- 
ings in strong shapes and brilliant hues. 

In 1917 Tamayo went to study at the Academy of San Carlos, where 
he was in the group with Agustin Lazo, Antonio Ruiz, Francisco Diaz de 
Leon, Gabriel Fernandez Ledesma, and Julio Castellanos. He was a 
special friend of Lazo, with whom he worked out a good many mutual 
problems, especially those related to modern European painting, toward 
which they were drawn through illustrations in books and magazines. 
Many of these artists were to become part of the Contemporaneos group 
later. Tamayo left the Academy in 1918 to study on his own, and in 1921 
was appointed head of the Department of Ethnographic Drawing in the 
National Museum of Archaeology. He was only twenty-one when he was 
again exposed to the precolonial material he had experienced as a child 
in Oaxaca. His teaching in the open-air schools during the 'twenties has 
already been mentioned. 

The first important paintings by Tamayo during the middle 'twenties 
were exhibited at his first one-man show, in Mexico City in 1926 — in an 
empty store on the Avenida Madero, since there were apparently no 
galleries at the time. They present a blend of simple, everyday themes 
with French techniques. Fauvc still-life arrangements alternate with 
monumentalized figure pieces that relate Tamayo to the general postwar 
classicism of his contemporaries. These works may be exemplified by the 
Still Life in the collection of Stanley Marcus in Dallas (1928, fig. 50), 
featuring the beloved fruits painted with reference to Braque and ar- 
ranged with the symmetry characteristic of Mexican fruit vendors in the 
markets. The artist's intention here and in all his subsequent works is to 
organize the two-dimensional picture surface in the manner we have 
come to recognize as 'modern' but with his own resonant and personal 
color quality, which was still comparatively dark at that time. The more 
classical works of this period may be illustrated by the monumental 
brooding Self-Portrait of 1931 in the Salo Hale collection. 

Whereas Revolutionary painters consciously refer to the ancient arts 
of Mexico, Tamayo has tended to depend more on his personal experiences 
with handicrafts of today, such as the colorful and cleverly distorted Judas 
figures with their brilliant colors applied to papier-mache. 2 Their elon- 
gated bodies and tiny heads, their angular planes are echoed especially 
in the latter-day works of Tamayo. 

But the difference between Tamayo and the social painters is far more 

1 Tamayo — so anos de su labor artistica, Instituto Xacional de Bellas Artes, 
Mexico, 1948. 

2 Beautiful examples are reproduced in Espacios, no. 3, Spring, 1949, in an 
article by Diego Rivera ('Los Judas'), an ardent collector of these forms. 



TAMAYO. Still Life. OIL. 



profound; it is a basic difference of aesthetic purpose and the very mean- 
ing of art. His belief in absolute values of form and color is expressed in 
the following words: 

It seems to me that to pretend that its (i.e. painting's) value is deriv- 
ed from other elements, particularly from ideological content which is 
not otherwise related to plastic content, cannot but be considered a fal- 
lacy which can temporarily deceive the unwary, but which Time, ruthless 
enemy of everything specious, will undertake to refute. 3 

It is significant that as early as 1929 Tamayo is greeted by anti-Rev- 
olutionary critics as the 'leader of a new Mexican school of painting' 4 
and as the symbol of a counter-Revolutionary trend. Such critics felt that 


3 In the same issue of Espacios, 'Unas palabras de Rufino Tamayo.' 

4 Jorge Montano, 'Rufino Tamayo: Leader of a New Mexican School of 
Painting,' Mexican Life, Nov. 1929. 


the Mexican Revolution was properly a revolution of the middle class 
and not of the proletariat, and that the art direction of Tamayo and his 
associates represented an acknowledgment of the final stabilization of the 
movement. For periodicals devoted to the interests of the Calles regime 
and those of foreign capital in Mexico, this view was not too surprising. 
Writers in these journals hailed what they called the 'failure' of the 
Syndicate as a sign of the fact that the Revolution was misdirected in its 
earlier phases. They believed, further, that the Mexican artistic Revolu- 
tion was no revolution but really 'pseudo-communistic' and that the 
peasants shown in those early paintings are a 'cross between Morelos 
Zapatistas and Russian moujiks.' 5 

Some Mexican artists have become the favorites of the reactionaries 
as they have escaped into the safe paths of linear mysticism or decorative 
charm. This is scarcely true of Tamayo, however, whose art remains 
progressive in essence just as his feeling for Mexico and its people is 
continually expressed in his own indigenous manner, as well as by con- 
stant reference to current ideas. Thus his water-color sketch for a govern- 
ment mural commission that was not executed, The Conquest of Mexico 
(1932), is a poetic and evocative interpretation ol a scene that had been 
handled in a much more representational way by the Riveristas. Here 
the painter uses for the first time the idea of the colonial horseman. This 
theme, later developed as a centaur by Siqueiros, reflects the superstitious 
fear of the Indians, who had never seen horses and who thought of the 
rider as growing out of the animal. 

Just as he gives tremendous pictorial interest to this theme, Tamayo 
also presents Juarez in 1932 (Ines Amor collection), a Glorification of^apata 
(Miguel Covarrubias collection), Call to Revolution (private collection, 
Mexico City), and two versions of the Workers' Rhythm, one in the Carrillo 
Gil collection (see fig. 51), the other also privately owned — all but 
the Juarez done in 1935. Mention of the existence of these and similar 
works is intended not to underline Tamayo's activity in this area but to 
show that he does possess Revolutionary awareness. More important, these 
paintings are further evidence of his plastic handling of everyday as well as 
ordinary aesthetic themes within the Fauve, Cubist, or other disciplines. 
These products of the 'thirties mark the beginning of his first 'bright 
period," in addition to a new feeling for spatial relationships which came 
through a direct and first-time contact with original works of modern art, 
when he took his first show to New York and stayed there from late 1926 
to mid- 1928. There is a considerable feeling for backward and forward 
movement in pictures of this era, typified by the first Workers' Rhythm 
(fig. 51), in which the dominant blues and blue-grays are played off 
against the brown bodies, black trees, and effective yellow moon in the 
upper left-hand corner. 

Guillermo Rivas, 'More Walls to Paint,' Mexican Life, Dec. 1930. 



tamayo. Workers' Rhythm, oil. Mexico city, coll. dr. a. carrillo gil. 

During the 'thirties also, Tamayo evolved a deeply spatial type of 
picture, such as the Mew York from a Terrace (1938), which conveys the 
sense of lonesomeness and distance often found in Surrealist pictures, but 
again with a personal handling of material or ideas taken from outside 
sources. This work has its own poetic quality, like many others of the 
late 'thirties, though without their frequent reference to the Mexican 
milieu in landscape, figures, costumes, and so on. The conception of 
space is not entirely that of the Europeans. Here space, while vast and 
penetrating, does not hint at endlessness, but is rather a carefully defined 
plastic entity with a beginning and an end, within which Tamayo's 
characters play their parts. 

The pictures of this period begin to show the warm but thinly brushed - 
on and smooth colors that are absorbed into the fabric of the canvas: 
light-blue, pink, and rose tonalities that give his paintings their Mexican 
quality in spite of generalized themes. The added accents of yellow, black, 


or brown, the subtle transitions from one intensity to another within a 
generally limited palette, lend Tamayo's work its peculiar sensitivity and 
distinction. Whether applied to easel painting, in which he was the 
leading spirit from 1926 on, or to mural painting, which he has practiced 
from time to time, this subtlety of tone and hue, this delicate balance of 
intensities of the same color, is retained. Against the deliberate primitiv- 
ism of his forms, these almost imperceptible shifts offer an interesting- 
contrast, a quiet but effective aesthetic tension. 

However outstanding Tamayo's contribution — and it can be argued 
that he is the foremost painter of the Mexican school in the modern sense 
— the fact remains that he has been an outside element in the Mexican 
situation. Because of lack of encouragement in his own country, where 
the growing group of collectors has concentrated for the most part on the 
work of the 'big three' (who have also been favored in the granting of 
government commissions), Tamayo finally decided in 1938 to shift the 
center of his activities to New York, fur the next decade and more he 
spent the major part of each year there, the summers in Mexico. 

During the years preceding this decision, there had always been the 
hope of achieving a success at home. In 1929 he joined Rivera (who had 
become director of the Academy of San Carlos) in an attempt to improve 
the teaching methods there, but the early resignation of the older man 
under double pressures from left and right cut short this activity in 1930. 
The following year Tamayo was appointed to a small Council for the 
Fine Arts within the Ministry of Education, and in 1932 he became one 
of the many short-lived chiefs of the Department of Plastic Arts. His 
attempt to improve art teaching in the elementary schools was brought 
to a stop by the end of the Abelardo Rodriguez administration under 
Calles. Tamayo's last important work during this period of change was 
the unfinished series of mural decorations in 1933 for the Conservatory 
of Music in Mexico City, of which the gigantesquc and somber central 
figure of Music is a powerful echo of the precolonial experiences of the 
painter. Other figures include a nude Intuition, a clothed Intelligence, 
Humanity, Song, and so on. 

With the new administration of President Cardenas, the emphasis 
was once again on socially significant ideas and actions. The exiled 
Revolutionary artists began to flock back, and there was little hope for 
Tamayo's kind of art in Mexico — at least for the time being. After a brief 
stay in New York in 1936, where he had gone as a delegate from the 
L.E.A.R. (League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists) together with 
Siqueiros and Orozco, he decided in 1938 to remain there. His develop- 
ment during the subsequent years and his return to Mexico to become 
once more part of the movement belong to a later phase of Mexican easel 
and mural painting. 


Tin; Cardenas Purinil 

1934 lo HI ill 


In the last months of the dying Calles era, the final year of Abelardo 
Rodriguez's term of office, a number of distinct improvements were made 
in Mexico as public sentiment grew against the more blatant reactionary 
measures. Agrarian reform was re-established on a large scale. The 
progressive Narciso Bassols was made Minister of Education, to the con- 
siderable benefit of Mexican art. And a candidate acceptable to the 
liberal elements was agreed to by Calles as the next president: Lazaro 

From Calles's point of view, Cardenas was the ideal candidate. He 
enjoyed the support of the army, labor, and farm elements, and although 
a cabinet member, was not considered a mere puppet. But if the Iron 
Man of Mexico thought he had secured another figurehead president, 
he was soon disillusioned, for Cardenas even before his July 1934 election 
took his job very seriously. In the seven months preceding the pro forma 
election, Cardenas traveled more than 18,000 miles by car, mule, train, 
and foot, 'campaigning' up and down Mexico and penetrating into 
corners of the land no politician had ever before visited. He simply 
wanted to find out what was going on and what was bothering his future 
constituents; and if he appeared to many of them as an incarnation of 
Quetzalcoatl, a god come to bring once more the benefits of civilization, 
it is not altogether surprising. 

In view of the misunderstandings in both Mexico and the United 
States concerning Cardenas's political philosophy, it is worth quoting 
from one of the hundreds of speeches made during this incredible journey: 

The main road of the new phase of the Revolution is the march of 
Mexico toward socialism, a movement which departs equally from the 
anachronistic norms of classical liberalism and from those which are 
proper to communism that is undergoing an experiment in Soviet Russia. 
It departs from individualist liberalism, because this system cannot give 
rise to anything but the exploitation of man by man, to the unrestrained 
absorption of natural resources and to individual egoisms. It departs from 
state communism, because our people are not the kind to adopt a system 


which deprives them of the full enjoyment of their efforts, nor do they 
want to substitute the individual boss with the boss state. 1 

After the election, Cardenas showed his sympathy for the workers by 
encouraging strikers in 1935, by pushing agrarian reform with such 
energy that certain Callista properties were taken over, and by daring to 
close down illegal gambling establishments owned by the followers of 
Calles. When Calles threatened to take measures against him, Cardenas 
responded with disconcerting rapidity by firing the majority of his Calles- 
picked cabinet and replacing them with a reform group. The first blood- 
less revolution in the history of Mexico had taken place before anyone 
was aware of what was happening. Opportunists swarmed from Calles 
to Cardenas, while in the provinces Callista governors fell like overripe 
fruit as laborers and peasants demonstrated against them. In 1936 a last 
attempt on the part of Calles and his old friend Morones to unseat Car- 
denas resulted merely in their being quietly sent across the border into 
the United States, where Don Plutarco complained to reporters that 
Mexico was becoming a dictatorship of the proletariat. 

Cardenas proceeded to eliminate the last Calles elements from his 
cabinet and to tour the country again, inviting suggestions and permitting 
free press and political criticism. His greatest support came from a re- 
organized and strengthened labor movement which in 1936 under 
Lombardo Toledano had formed the C.T.M. (Confederacion de Tra- 
bajadores Mexicanos), an industrial-union arrangement similar to the 
C.I.O. in the United States. A skillful politician, however, the president 
kept the peasants, labor, and the army apart. The peasant groups were 
organized into a national league, with their militia armed as a check on 
the army; regular army wages and morale were improved, especially for 
the rank and file; and labor was encouraged to build up its own organiz- 
ation — but none of these groups had too much power. The grip of the 
professional lawyer-politicians on national affairs was weakened by the 
reorganization of the old P. N. R., the government party. Renamed the 
P.R.M. (Party of the Mexican Revolution), it now admitted peasant and 
union delegates and did away with dues for officeholders. 

In the reformist environment of the new administration, cultural and 
artistic organizations were formed to express the direction of the new 
Revolutionary program and to support it: the L.E.A.R. (League of 
Revolutionary Writers and Artists) and then the Workshop of Popular 
Graphic Art (Taller de Grafica Popular). As for the reforms themselves, 
they featured an aggressive redistribution of the land; by 1940, this 
amounted to twice as much as all the previous governments together had 
been able to accomplish. Large co-operative farms were established with 
grants of seeds and machinery. New schools and consumer co-operatives 

1 Todd Downing, The Mexican Earth, Doubleday Doran & Co., X.Y., 1940, 
p. 286. 


were also set up, and in general the living standards of the farm and 
factory population were considerably raised. 

Most spectacular was the successful assertion of Mexico's sovereignty 
over its own natural resources, culminating in the 1938 expropriation of 
the oil companies, which had refused to abide by government regulations, 
paying unsatisfactory wages and selling Mexican oil at a higher price in 
Mexico than in other countries. The great furor this step aroused in the 
United States was equaled by the jubilation of the people of Mexico — 
including many artists, to whom this event offered a heroic theme. But 
the calm attitude of the Roosevelt administration, which refused to be 
stampeded into violent reprisal, resulted in a negotiated settlement. Yet 
the boycott of Mexican oil organized by the oil companies compelled the 
Cardenas government to trade oil for machinery with fascist Germany, 
Italy, and Japan, an unenviable position for the only Western Hemisphere 
government that had actively supported the Loyalists in Spain during the 
civil war of 1936-9. The world-wide activities of the Nazis brought the 
growth of fascist-minded groups in Mexico, while the eventual Franco 
victory in Spain encouraged a certain amount of Falangist activity. 

Not only had Cardenas shipped arms to Spain but he now welcomed 
the Loyalist refugees in flight from Franco. That this was not because of 
alleged Stalinist sympathies is seen in the fact that he also gave asylum 
to that arch enemy of the Soviet government, Leon Trotsky. Yet even 
the milder conservatives in Mexico claimed not only that the president's 
policies were economically unsound (a great deal of money was spent on 
rural schools and co-operative farms) but also that the communists had 
too much influence in the administration. Rut this time most of the 
opposition was willing to wait for the next election instead of sounding 
the call to revolt — a distinct advance for Mexico. 

Cardenas himself was not a communist. This appears very clear from 
all the available facts and from various public acts, including his refusal 
to recognize the Soviet Union. He was inclined toward a modified social- 
ism in which the workers would own the factories on a profit-sharing- 
basis. At the same time it must be recognized that in this period of new 
Revolutionary ferment and general Popular Front activity the left would 
surely make definite advances. Nowhere is this more evident than in the 
cultural realm, which, even under the limited program of 1920-24, had 
been far ahead of the government. During this later period, however, a 
systematic organizing of the nation's cultural leaders and the fight against 
fascism both at home and abroad put the more radical writers and artists 
into an advantageous position. The situation is mirrored in the award of 
important government commissions to left-wing individuals and the 
denial of similar opportunities to those who were not part of that pattern. 
On a positive level, it is seen in the murals for the new schools in the 
Federal District and the widespread activity of the Workshop of Popular 
Graphic Art. The other side is reflected in the ambiguous position of 


Diego Rivera, who did few murals at this time, and in the fact that most 
ofOrozco's activity during the Cardenas administration was in Guadala- 
jara rather than in Mexico City, under state rather than federal sponsor- 
ship. In the case of Tamayo, the situation led, as we have seen, to his 
abandoning Mexico for the United States. 

In 1934 the renewed activity of politico-cultural groups like the earlier 
Syndicate emerged in the organization of the L.E.A.R. by Leopoldo 
Mendez, Pablo O'Higgins, and others, to unite antifascist intellectuals. 2 
Painters, it should be remembered, started this group; the same painting 
community is still the most vital part of a Mexican cultural scene in which 
literature, theater, or music of a comparable quality is relatively rare. 

In 1930 and 1931, under the dalles regime, the more radical artists 
had had to work underground; they were harassed by the police, and 
their posters were regularly torn clown. With the toleration exhibited in 
the Cardenas period, it became possible for a group of artists to gather in 
the studio of the United States-born Pablo O'Higgins (former Rivera 
assistant) to plan a new art movement for the masses through the L.E.A.R. 
This group included O'Higgins, Mendez, Alfredo Zalce, Antonio Pujol, 
and Angel Bracho. They soon found in the recently completed Abclardo 
Rodriguez Market a series of walls that would fit their purpose, i.e. an 
area that was really public and unlike the earlier off-the-street walls of 
the Preparatoria, the Ministry of Education, and so on. In 1934 they 
started on this assignment, which was perhaps the first co-operative 
painting job done in Mexico; as already mentioned, Siqueiros had di- 
rected a number of team projects in the United States a few years earlier. 
(During this later period, however, Siqueiros was head of the League 
against War and Fascism, doing relatively little painting and no murals.) 

The market project was carried out under the aegis of the government 
Central Department, with Rivera as the ostensible technical supervisor, 
although he does not seem to have functioned at all. Among those active 
in the work were the Mexicans Bracho, Pujol, Ramon Alva Guadarrama, 
Miguel Tzab, Raul Gamboa, and Pedro Rendon, and the 'North- 
Americans' O'Higgins and Grace and Marion Greenwood. However 
appealing the idea of a collective art enterprise may be, the fact remains 
that the Abclardo Rodriguez murals are by and large among the least 
effective projects of this kind. With the possible exception of Pujol's panel 
on the dangers of mining — showing a frightened but militant miner 
dropping down into the pit — other murals here leave much to be desired 
both in drawing (generally inferior Rivera) and in color. More successful 
as a L.E.A.R. group project is the 1936 collective mural done in the 
entrance hallways of the government printing office, the Talleres Graficos 
dc la Nacion, by O'Higgins, Mendez, Zalce, and Fernando Gamboa. 

That same year the L.E.A.R. sent as delegates to the First American 

2 Verna Millan, op. cit. 


Artists Congress in New York Siqueiros, Orozco, and Tamayo. :i In 1937, 
as a result of the infusion of fresh blood into the L.E.A.R. through 
Spanish refugee intellectuals, there was held the Congress of Mexican 
Artists, the first of its kind in Mexico; it was particularly significant at 
that stage of the Spanish civil war, since the Loyalists received the 
Congress's full support. In this activity as in its other ones, the L.E.A.R. 
was led by the artists. Indeed it is claimed that the inclusion of writers in 
the organization was ultimately its ruin, presumably because these 
idealists were inclined more to talk than to action, Another factor was 
that by 1935 more of them had government jobs — but not as writers. 

Yet in spite of this disparity between professional painters for whom 
contracts were signed by L.E.A.R. and intellectualist writers who would 
discuss Revolutionary problems but do nothing about them, the organiza- 
tion filled such an important need that it became an unofficial but 
powerful clearing house for all cultural activities. Its magazine, Frente 
a Frente, was printed gratis at the government printing plant, and impor- 
tant sympathizers contributed generously of their money. By the end of 
1937, however, the latter dropped away, and since there was no arrange- 
ment for dues, there were no funds to carry on. The opportunist politicians 
who had used L.E.A.R. when they needed it also disappeared; and 
careerists within the organization had done a great deal of harm by- 
taking advantage of its position to further their own interests. In November 
1938 the League dissolved, but it had already been supplanted by the 
Workshop for Popular Graphic Art, strictly an artists' organization, 
which was formed in 1937. 

The Workshop, or Taller, as it is generally known, was consciously 
organized to continue the traditions first of the Syndicate and then of the 
L.E.A.R. 1 Under the leadership of Mendez, O'Higgins, and Luis Arenal 
and encouraged by Siqueiros, the founding members also included Bracho, 
Pujol, Zalce, Ignacio Aguirre, Raul Anguiano, Jesus Escobedo, Eve- 
rardo Ramirez, and Gonzalo de la Paz Perez. Within a relatively short 
time the Taller numbered sixteen members, their activity symbolically 
centered about an old lithographic press labeled 'Paris, 1871,' which is 
believed to have been used by the Paris Commune. 

The activities of the Taller have been communal in every way, in- 
cluding group criticism in which all work is reviewed by the members 
as a whole, their criteria being primarily dramatic effectiveness of message 
rather than the formal concepts that generally characterize modern art. 
This is necessarily the case for the kinds of projects undertaken by the 
group. These include their first poster in 1937 greeting the newly formed 
C.T.M. (Federation of Mexican W r orkers); the caricatures dealing with 
the 1938 expropriation of foreign-owned oil fields; the illustrated popular 

' See bibliography under American Artists Congress. 
See their T G P Mexico album, La Estampa Mexicana, Mexico, 1949. 


calendars done for the Workers' University; the 1938 and 1939 posters 
against fascism; and the series of prints entitled The Spain of Franco. Day 
by day they reacted to the tumultuous political events of that time 
throughout the world, turning out thousands of colored handbills with 
the words of the traditional corridos, or popular songs, or with the Posada- 
derived calaveras (skeleton figures) that have long been used effectively 
for popularizing picture messages to the people. 

Inevitably these artists brought to a climax the tradition of graphic art, 
so strong in Mexico since the liberal and anticlerical movements of the 
late nineteenth century and continued first in the prints published by 
Vanegas Arroyo through the Posada period and then in the periodicals 
of the Revolutionary period proper: La Vanguardia, El Machete, El Liber- 
tador, and others. In addition to these traditional and Revolutionary 
sources, the members of the Taller feel themselves influenced by Jose 
Clemente Orozco as the great graphic master of modern Mexico, whose 
general style has become the basis for the work of many younger graphic 
men. It has been seen how during the 'thirties Orozco moved from a 
monumental classical form to a more Expressionistic, dissolved type of 
painting, stressing the whiplash stroke and the dynamically moving 
figure, using the brush almost as a colored pencil. Through this work 
(California, Dartmouth, Palacio de Bellas Artes, see fig. 56) and through 
his lithographs beginning in 1926 and his etchings beginning in 1935, 
Orozco had a great deal indeed to offer the members of the Taller. 

This affinity is revealed at its most effective in an outstanding member 
of the Taller, Leopoldo Mendez (b. 1902). His tragic memorial to the 
two hundred school-teachers murdered by religious fanatics in the rural 
districts, the series of seven lithographs in In the Name of Christ, is one of 
the most moving creations of modern Mexican art. Produced in 1939, 
the little volume consists of seven scenes of the murders committed by the 
Cristeros, with adjoining newpaper or other comment on the event. The 
scene showing the brutal attack on prqfesor Arnulfo Sosa Portillo (fig. 52) 
has on the opposite page a summary from El Universal of 7 April 1937. 
This tells how a mob of armed men attacked a small village, committing 
the usual depredations, and after setting fire to the school killed the 
teacher with their machetes. His body was found in the city hall, where 
he had fled for shelter but where he had been abandoned by the fleeing 
municipal authorities. In a lithograph of this kind Mendez is probably 
at his dynamic best, with a rare intensity of movement and linear ex- 

He is also effective in the somber tragedy of the later Deportation to 
Death (1943). This linoleum cut is part of The Black Book of Nazi Terror in 
Europe , 5 a project in which the artists of the Taller added drawings and 
engravings to one hundred and forty photographs and official records 

5 El Libra Negro del Terror Nazi en Europa, El Libro Libre, Mexico, iq43- 




mendez. The Assassination of Profesor Arnulfo Sosa Portillo. 
lithograph from En Nombrc de Cristo . . . 


gathered by leading antifascist refugee intellectuals in Mexico. Here 
the huddled masses of frightened humanity, reminiscent of Orozco, are 
revealed in Mendez's brilliant light and dark contrasts. Their unending 
tragedy is symbolized by a deeply receding perspective of freight cars 
carrying the doomed Jews to their death. 

On a somewhat different level, the work of the 'North-American' Pablo 
O'Higgins (b. 1904) in the Taller — as distinct from his early and some- 
what Riveresque mural painting — veers from a poetic, melancholy feeling 
for the poor of Mexico, e.g. A Dog's Life (lithograph, 1938) or the touching 
Man of the Twentieth Century (lithograph, 1943), to a more overt social 
expression. In his Posada-inspired Calavera de la Justicia (linoleum cut, 
1951, fig. 53) a figure dressed in cap and gown (the judge stereotype) 


o'higgins. Calavera de la Justicia. linoleum gut. 

>UR'I ! SY TAT, 1,1 K 1)1 ■ UKAI'li \ l'« >l'l I \l: 



arenal. Head of an Indian Woman, lithograph. 


dances with the skeleton whore (presumably subverted justice) on a 
banner labeled 'Rights of the Working Class.' This is typical of the 
satirical illustrations done by the group in general. (It is interesting that 
O'Higgins was co-editor of a monograph on Posada published by Mexican 
Folkways in 1937.) 

Although a good deal of Taller activity is concerned with group pro- 
jects of a political nature, there are individual plates which, while dis- 
tinctly propagandistic in tone, are done in the tradition of the fine-arts 
print. Some of the best work of the Taller members is to be found in this 
latter category, including plates that often have no specific topical 
purpose but which retain a broad humanistic quality and social sym- 

The sculpturesque Head of an Indian Woman (fig. 54) by Luis Arenal 
(b. 1908) suggests the magnificent three-dimensionality of Siqueiros's 

I H 



mora. Miner, lithograph. 

forms. Arenal had worked with the older painter on the Chouinard 
School murals in Los Angeles. On his return to Mexico, he involved 
himself in the League against War and Fascism and became one of the 
founders of the L.E.A.R. Sent to New York in 1936 as one of the delegates 
to the Artists Congress, he remained to paint a mural in Bellcvue Hospital 

1 l:' 

and to join the Siqueiros Experimental Workshop set up in New York in 
1936 to study new media. Later that year he was back in Mexico as one 
of the founders of the Taller. Although primarily interested in large 
forms of the Indian Woman type, Arenal has also done sensitive landscape 
rendering, such as the Indians of Guerrero (lithograph, 1943). 6 

The Bolivian Roberto Berdecio (b. 1910) arrived in Mexico in 1934. 
He became a member of L.E.A.R. and was sent with the 1936 delegation 
to New York, where he worked in the Siqueiros Workshop with Arenal 
and Pujol. Berdecio shows a sense of plastic organization that places him 
apart from many of the other Taller artists. His delicate Head of a Girl 
(1947), for example, is a sensitively beautiful lithographic drawing that 
may well owe something to Siqueiros, but the poetry of line is entirely 
his own. The Tepoztldn lithograph of the same year is a subtle study in 
surface textures and curvilinear rhythms for their own artistic qualities. 

A combination of effective compositional values and human interest 
is achieved in Francisco Mora's Miner (lithograph, 1945, fig. 55). Light 
and dark contrasts help establish depth, while the contrasting oval and 
angular rhythms of the primary planes give interest to this bent figure 
emerging from the earth. Mora (b. 1922) is one of the younger members 
of the Taller. 

Alfredo Zalce (b. 1908), a leading painter in Mexico today, worked 
as an art educator from 1930 to 1934. He was liaison man for L.E.A.R., 
and opened his own Cultural Missions areas in the provinces during 
1935-40. A founding member of the Taller, he has contributed such 
notable works as the well-known series of Estampas de Yucatan (1945), 
illustrated by The Fisherman (lithograph, 1945), whose beautiful sim- 
plicity is equaled only by its primitive strength and directness. It is in 
some ways one of the finest prints produced by this variegated group of 
Mexican artists, with their American and European members, sympathi- 
zers, and occasional visiting artists (cf. fig. 109). 

Other notable members of the group include Pujol, Aguirre, Anguiano, 
Bracho, Escobedo, Jose Chavez Morado, Francisco Dosamantes, Arturo 
Garcia Bustos, Isidoro Ocampo, and Antonio Villagra C. Many of them 
have made contributions of value to the development of Mexican art: 
Villagra with his archaeological work in Bonampak; Anguiano, Chavez 
Morado, Aguirre, Pujol, and others, who have distinguished themselves 
in painting as well as graphics and other fields. Although we may perhaps 
speak of a Taller style, especially as applied to propaganda work (e.g. 
Aguirre's J^apata), each of these men has something personal to say, 
something that with varying degrees of effectiveness reflects the dynamics 
of the age of Cardenas and the momentum it generated into the period 

6 This and other Taller prints are reproduced in the T G P Mexico cited 



orozco. Katharsis, central portion, fresco, palacio de Bellas artes, Mexico city. 

144 I 

1934 In 1940 


The relative artistic positions of Mexico's leading painters change 
considerably during the period from 1934 to 194U. In the mural, Orozco 
emerges as the outstanding figure — first because of the intrinsic quality 
of his stupendous works, second because of the influence he begins to 
exert on the younger men, particularly the graphic artists but also some 
of the muralists. In easel painting, Tamayo appears as the leader of the 
non-Revolutionary group, while Siqueiros, in spite of his many outside 
activities, produces enough of his typical sculpturesque figures to dominate 
the politically oriented side of this art. At the same time Siqueiros finally 
hits his stride in mural painting with the exciting staircase in the Electri- 
cians Union building. Rivera's murals during this six-year period include 
one new government commission, in the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Then, 
after the completion of the long-delayed staircase project in the National 
Palace, his mural activity is confined to the abortive Hotel Reforma 
affair. From 1936 to 1940 his work is limited to easel pictures: imaginative 
landscapes, meticulous portraits, the series of studies of a well-known 
United States Negro woman dancer, and a number of fine genre pieces. 

Orozco's great murals of this period begin with a large rectangular 
wall area in the Palacio de Bellas Artes (1934). It is a bloody picture of 
the violent conflict between modern man and the chaotic mechanized 
world that surrounds and tries to overwhelm him (fig. 56). By the same 
token, it is a well-integrated and well-composed symbol of the eternal 
struggle between men, of wars and especially of class wars, of the op- 
pression of the poor by the rich. 

In Dartmouth the philosophical position of Orozco seemed pessimistic, 
even hopeless, with Christ returning to destroy His Cross. Here in the 
Palacio mural, which the painter calls Katharsis, or purgation, there is a 
solution through purging or destruction of this horrible world. This is 
also typical of the solution the German Expressionists gave in an earlier 
period, before the First World War. In contrast to the rational and 
optimistic Man at the Crossroads by Rivera on the same floor of this 


building (also 1934), Orozco's Katharsis (it has also been called Strife and 
Modern Civilization) is a flaming symbol of the tortured and unhappy 
state of mankind. 

Like the earlier Prometheus and the slightly later Guadalajara murals, 
the work is dominated by powerful diagonal thrusts. The two struggling 
central figures lean to the left and set the mood of the entire piece. One 
is a nude man (brown, flecked with green and black); his head is seen as 
part of a group of heads at the immediate left; the upper part of his body 
emerges against the red flames of revolt that complete the top of the wall. 
The other is a clothed figure into whose white-shirted back the first man 
is plunging a dagger. A powerful nude brown leg thrusts to the right and 
is braced against a steel girder to accentuate diagonal movement and 
to isolate the two horrible female heads at the lower right of the mural, 
part of a group of caricatures along the lower section of the wall that 
symbolize lechery and decadence. Between these two heads and the third 
full-length whore at the left are two diagonally placed rifles that parallel 
the struggling men in the center. 

These women are derived only in part from the early caricature style 
of the Preparatoria, and represent a long evolution in drawing and print 
studies of this allegorical problem. The laughing female figure lying full 
length is the climax of these studies; compositionally, it closes the un- 
balanced receding pyramid of the center of the mural. A brown-haired, 
gold-toothed creature at the right gives way to the yellow-green hair 
and red face of the center caricature; then comes the vicious full-length 
figure at the left. The upper part of this body is in rich, sensuous reddish- 
pink; the lower part, from the belly down, is in a Toulouse-Lautrec color 
of evil greenish-tan. 

We may consider the central portion of this painting either as a series 
of diagonals (the flexed legs of the whore, the men's backs, the down- 
pointed guns) or as an inclined pyramid, at either side of which appear 
contrasting gray-colored symbols of machinery that oppress man. Man- 
kind is seen immediately adjacent to this machinery both in the form 
of oppressed and dead people (upper and lower right and lower left) and 
in the form of those rebelling against the mechanized world. The latter 
force is represented in the powerful leftward movement of the naked 
protagonist of revolt who kills the clothed man amid the broken and 
falling rifles. From his outthrust diagonal leg that rejects the girder on 
which an open safe rests, the action moves symbolically left against the 
flaming fires of revolt, with the adjoining figures — those in rebellion 
against society — raising clenched fists. The symbolic groups of the 
defeated and the rebellious fall away from the main pyramid into the 
corners or parallel its diagonalities. 

The main tonalities of this wall are the red of the background flames, 
the flag of the upper right-hand corner, the red tones in the women's 
bodies and in the center guns; the gray of the machinery that oppresses 

I K, 



humanity; the green of the lower part of the great whore's body, the hair 
of the second whore, and occasional green accents as on the body of the 
main protagonist. 

This mural remains the only significant work accomplished by Orozco 
in the capital during the Cardenas period. Whether because of increasing 
political pressures or because of accidental circumstances, the bulk of 
Orozco's work at this time was done in Guadalajara between 1936 and 
1939, ending with a portable mural in 1940 for the Museum of Modern 
Art exhibition in New York. 

His murals of 1923-6 and the easel and graphic works up to 1930 had 
stressed the dignity of man and had emphasized (as in the Revolutionary 
drawings) a certain compassionate quality. About 1930 he turned to a 
new form of expression. First in the Pomona mural (1930) and then in 
the Dartmouth work (1932-4) he shifted to an art of Expressionistic and 
or symbolic terror, showing the cruelties and hungers of the world. In 
general, these works and the later Palacio and Guadalajara murals 



orozco. The Scientist and portion 
of The Worker, fresco. 


luis mArouez 

betray a far more pessimistic outlook, in which the bestial power of the 
world's attacks on man and his own disillusionment at its cruelties seem 
to be increasingly stressed. 

Called to Guadalajara in 1936 by Governor C. Everardo Topete of 
Jalisco, Orozco first painted the dome and end wall of the auditorium at 
the University. The dome, forty-six feet in diameter and seventy-two 
feet from the ground to its top, shows four allegorical male figures rep- 
resenting Creative Man: the scientist-thinker, the worker, the teacher, and 
the rebel fighting for a new world (fig. 57). These are fitted into the 
shape of the dome; portions of the forms overlap and fuse, in order to 
effect the joining. A rich warmth emanates from this part of the building 
because of the reddish tonalities that bathe it. 

The four-headed Scientist (fig. 58), looking in various directions, holds 
a compass in one hand and a ruler in the other and is surrounded by 
symbols of mathematics, anatomy, and other branches of investigative 


science. In the serene figure of the Teacher, with a hand raised in the 
traditional gesture of exposition, many people recognize Vicente Lom- 
bardo Toledano, after whom it is supposed to have been modeled. 

The Worker is another portrait, this time of Orozco himself, with 
features altered and with two hands instead of one (Orozco had lost one 
hand in a childhood accident). Standing stark upright in effective fore- 
shortening, the Worker is seen before a series of curved metallic forms 
representing the machine. The final figure here is the Rebel, shown upside 
down with his head at the foot of the Worker, a rope tied around his 
neck and his feet pointing to the skies. A red flag wrapped around his 
left hand unfolds to enframe the upraised hand of the adjacent Teacher. 
Color in this dome is dominantly brick-red touched with greenish 
shadows, sepia, black, and white areas, except for the completely red 
flag. The background is a lavender-purple. 

In powerful contrast to the intellectuality and relative serenity of the 
dome is the flat wall beneath and its side panels, all with darker tonalities 
in black, gray, and brown and showing again the idea of an oppressed 
mankind. This area (fig. 59) is a logical development from the previous 



1 I'l 


OROZGO. False Leaders and their Allies, detail, fresco. 




Palacio de Bellas Artes mural, in both composition and theme. Its subject 
is once more the revolt of man, this time against the false prophets that 
mislead him into continued hunger and suffering. Here two main 
diagonals dominate: first the gray-overalled 'labor leaders' with their 
pious texts, who shrink to the left, one individual bracing his leg to the 
right as in the Palacio; and then the magnificently pitiful symbol of a 
tortured human being, on the ground and leaning to the right. The false 
leaders, the representatives of the 'labor millionaires,' shrink from the 
uprising of the agonized sufferers, who are arranged in a rectangle on 
the upper-right portion of the wall and are revealed against the familiar 
symbolic flames of a world in revolt. 

The fire that separates the hungry masses and their well-fed torturers 
pours over into the left-hand panel to serve as a background. There it 
lends a feeling of burning unrest to the brutal power and arrogance of the 
workers of the 'white syndicates' and their soldier allies (fig. 60). On the 
right side, the mass of gaunt fieshless figures is directly related to the 
pathetic misery symbolized by the right-hand panel (fig. 61). Here three 
figures, one standing, one kneeling in a begging pose, and the third a 
starved child lying on the ground, sum up the pathos of Orozco's in- 
tention in a continuous linear flow arranged in a curved, panel-like 

Formally this building offers a more compact and concentrated im- 
pression than do the other Guadalajara works, partly because of the 
way in which the dome and walls are related architectonically and partly 
because the upward movement in the walls is climaxed by the soaring 
figures of the cupola. Moreover, the loosely painted and crowded back 
wall is framed by the relatively solid and less crowded compositions of the 
sides and dome. Yet the figure style of all the various areas is looser and 
more graphic than ever before. The masses of people with the usual 
apocalyptic intent of Orozco suggest El Greco and Tintoretto; their 
white highlights and black outlines are a particular feature of the work. 

At no point before this and very seldom thereafter was Orozco able 
to achieve the degree of pathos found in these gaunt dematerialized 
forms, these ideographs of suffering. Every face and form is its own excuse 
for being, from the frightening bandaged figure lying in the foreground 
of the center wall to the individual heads framed by the waving arms 
in the background. From this point on, Orozco's Expressionist manner 
is fully formed, to be applied with variations in the other Guadalajara 
buildings and during the next period in Mexico City. 

Ideologically, this auditorium represents a clearer and more direct 
statement than the still symbolic Palacio mural. There is a clear contrast 
between the creative character of the cupola themes, emphasizing the 
good that can be accomplished by education and by scientific research, 
and the destructive character of the walls below, with their demagoguery 
and resultant hunger. Yet at no point does Orozco come out for a 



orozco. The Victims, fresco. 



positive political program (unlike Rivera with his idealistic-Marxist 
point of view). He gives us instead a strong negativistic and mystical 
feeling of unqualified opposition to those elements that are harmful to 
his people. 

The next project in Guadalajara, the 1937 murals of the Government 
Palace (Palacio del Gobierno), although more direct in theme than the 
University paintings, still leaves a great deal unexplained. The murals 
are in a seventeenth-century building dominated by a huge staircase 
which leads up from the courtyard and on which the murals have been 
placed. On the ceiling vault of this stairway, the saga of the Mexican 
struggle begins with the gigantic black-coated figure of the priest Hidalgo 
y Costilla (see Frontispiece), who in 1810, at the town of Dolores, 
launched the Independence movement with the famous grito, or Cry of 


Dolores. The great torch in his hand reaches down into the main wall 
below, where the seething masses of people, led into revolt by his cry, 
struggle and die against a background of swirling red banners, as though 
they were inflamed by that torch. 

On the left wall adjoining this vault Orozco fires his heaviest guns at 
Mexico's traditional despotisms — the organized Church and the military 
cliques that combined to keep the people down. This section is known 
as The Religions Phantasms in Alliance with Militarism (fig. 62). Awesome 
and terrifying, the symbols take shape first in the red flag-draped central 
figure of an invisible soldier, from whom greenish-gray serpents emerge 
to crush a helpless naked form at the right whose head is obscured by a 
serpent spewing out endless guns to kill the people in the center wall. 
At the left of the soldier the gray-black figure of a bishop, also with in- 
visible face, stands beneath a mighty purple-brown Cross looming against 
the sky, and moves forward as implacably as his soldier-companion 
(fig. 63). One serpent-covered arm points toward a death's head, while 
the other hand holds an enormous yellowish candle. Cross, priest, and 
candle effect a diagonal rightward movement down the stairs and to- 
ward the mass of people on the main wall whom they oppress. 


orozco. Religious Phantasms in Alliance with Militarism, fresco. 





orozco. Religious Phantasms in Alliance with Militarism, detail, fresco. 


On the opposite side of the staircase is a more complicated and grotes- 
que arrangement, The Carnival of the Ideologies (fig. 64), symbols of the 
political ideologies that mislead the people with their juggled slogans. 
One, for example, shows a puppet holding a hammer and sickle and 
controlled by a sinister Soviet caricature (fig. 65); another portrays a 
figure with a combination swastika-sickle attached to its head and 




orozco. Carnival of the Ideologies. 



orozco. Carnival of the Ideologies, 
detail, fresco, right staircase wall, 


holding a pair of detached arms which he causes to shake hands. Con- 
fronting the Soviet puppet-master is a trio of fascist symbols: a Japanese 
waving a pair of dummy clenched fists, an animal-like caricature of 
Mussolini with arm extended in salute, and a figure of Hitler wearing an 
armband with swastika and star and a Phrygian liberty cap. Other areas 
are devoted to symbols of clerical fascism, a caricature of Marx, and a 
number of less readable symbols. The general intent and impression are 
completely antitotalitarian, with the various ideologies leering and 
mocking at one another. More interesting from the point of view of 
content than of form, this is perhaps the least well-organized portion of 
the murals in the Palacio del Gobierno. 

Over the balcony arches on the wall opposite the main section are The 
Outcasts (fig. 66) . Figures are fitted into the spandrels between the arches 


orozco. The Outcasts, detail, fresco. 


■ '/;; *>>1 


and are also shown lying down near the haunch of the central arch. They 
are frightened, agonized, and graphically painted forms, dark-contoured 
and highlighted in the new expressive Orozco technique. 

On coming up these stairs the initial impact — made by the brown- 
skinned mystical face of Hidalgo y Costilla framed by the wavelike tufts 
of white hair and rising out of the dark mass of his frock coat — is simply 
overwhelming. Although this first overhead impression is the most 
dramatic, the best view of the work as a whole is from the patio balcony 
above, from the railing facing the gigantic figure of the patriot priest, 
which also allows a complete view of the two side walls. Center and side 
sections of this mural are joined in a number of ways. As mentioned 
before, the serpent on the left wall spews weapons into the lower-right 
corner of its panel and across into the lower portion of the main wall, 
where they move in steel-gray tones into the mass of struggling revolution- 
aries. Here and there a figure in the main section appears with a sword 
buried in its back or throat. 

In general, the amalgamation of the three sections is due first to a 
continuous gray-black tonality through their lower areas, strong touches 
of red throughout, and a less apparent series of purple touches. Second, 
and just as important, is the dynamic and Expressionistic movement of 
the various groups of figures, which grows from left to right throughout 
the left and center walls and then meets a series of opposing movements 
coming from the right-hand wall. A third unifying element is the over-all 
use of loose curvilinear strokes for form articulation, for distortion of 
shape, and for individual detail. Also, the upper sections of the three 
areas are joined rather loosely by purple-lavender patches in the upper 
left and right of the center panel which pour over into the side walls. 

But the most significant unifying element is the mystic form of the great 
priest emerging from this welter of line and color like a Christ in a Last 
Judgment, setting in motion the awful events pictured and calling- 
humanity to account. 1 As in many other Orozco frescoes, there is constant 
contrast between the vast anonymous mass and the idealistic individual, 
between chaos and idealism. 

The climax of Orozco's efforts in Guadalajara and one of the outstand- 
ing monuments of Mexican painting is the series of murals in the chapel 
of the Cabanas Orphanage (Hospicio Cabanas), where in 1938-9 the 
artist covered some 1200 square meters. These involve a dome, a support- 
ing drum, four pendentives, eight vaults, and fourteen panels, in addition 
to various small fragments. Architecturally this was perhaps the most 
advantageous space that had ever been offered to Orozco, for even though 

1 An interesting comparison may be made with a 19 19 woodcut, Hate Burns, 
War Rages, by the German Expressionist Ernst Barlach, reproduced in Art 
News, Dec. 1955, p. 38. 


it did not permit the single and immediate impact of the University 
auditorium, the very spaciousness of the simply built old chapel, with 
its well-defined wall and vault areas, allowed him to work out his most 
satisfactory large-scale mural. Whereas in the Dartmouth murals he had 
been forced to devise connecting elements, a not always satisfactory or 
successful procedure, here everything was laid out and waiting to be 
painted. The building presents a cross plan with a cupola over the crossing, 
a series of vaults over the nave and in the arms of the crossing, together 
with lunettes of various kinds. 

As always, Orozco visualized his murals in historical and didactic 
terms, working toward a humanistic idea. Here, as at Dartmouth, the 
theme is the origin and development of the Americas and the world. Once 
more the painter seems to look with a certain disapproval on the facts 
and their evil features, and offers his characteristic soaring spiritual 
answer, this time in the dome (fig. 67). On the vaults and the walls below 
are scenes from the history of Mexico since the Conquest; the cruelty of 
colonial times is equated with the mechanistic oppression of our own day, 
the compassionate note again added by the good Franciscans. Over these, 
in the pendentives supporting the dome, is a series of abstract figures 
symbolizing the Revolution; above them on the drum a succession of 
constructive forms represent occupations; and finally in the dome over a 
second and windowed drum is the climax of the building, The Elements. 
Here in the portrayal of Earth, Air, Water, and Fire, we arrive at another 
Orozco representation of the aspirations of mankind, as the flaming 
symbol of Fire rises prophetically upward. 

The crossing paintings deal with the barbaric precolonial aspect of 
Mexican history. In one arm of the crossing is the gunmetal-blue Coat- 
lique, a mother of Aztec gods, worshipped in the vault overhead, with 
scenes of Aztec sacrifice on either side. In the other arm of the crossing, 
a nude figure is torn between Aztec and Christian gods and is flanked 
by Conquest scenes below. At each end of the nave and the crossing 
arms, a pair of symbolic figures refers to the advent of modern Western 
civilization: the Aztec warrior and the white man, two Franciscans, a 
writer (Cervantes) and a painter (El Greco), and so on. 

The most important areas painted in this building, aside from the 
dome, are the vaults of the nave (three on each side of the dome) and 
the parallel paired panels in the walls underneath these. The vaults 
constitute a series of references to the Conquest period of the sixteenth 
century, and show in the order named The Mystic Spain of Philip II, 
Warrior Spain, The Conversion oj the Indians (these on one side of the dome). 
The other arm of the nave shows Cortez and Victory, War Scenes, and The 
Mechanical Horse in the corresponding vault areas. 

Perhaps the most effective single figure in this part of the building is 
that of Philip II and the Cross in the first vault (fig. 68), a gigantesque, 
scowling, ruffed Spaniard in gray-black supporting a large reddish-tinted 





Cross, the entire scene against a bright-blue background. Immediately 
adjacent is a group of machinelike Spaniards on two-headed horses 
running down the Indians and waving the banner of Castile and Leon. 
The next two vaults offer a contrast: on one side of the dome, the com- 
passionate Franciscan in the Conversion scene, with the Indian kneeling 
at his feet and a plaque bearing the ABCD in the background; on the 
other side, the figure of Cortez, the man of iron, bitter and unyielding. 
This mechanized black-brown figure stands out from a scene of butchery 
against a somber greenish background. Next to Cortez, another vault 
shows a group of semi-mechanical Spaniards in the act of conquering, 
while at the end of the nave away from the dome is the Mechanical Horse, 
half-animal, half-machine, with a chain tail, crawling over girders that 
crush people. The brick-red background again bears the symbols of 
Leon and Castile. 




orozco. Philip II and the Cross, 
vault section, fresco. 


In the wall panels directly under the nave vaults, the painter has 
arranged a series of complementary pairs of thematic material: the un- 
known primitive state and the Conquest, the tragic and the ridiculous, 
the man of science and the man of religion — all emphasizing the contrast 
between prehistoric and modern civilization. To these contrapuntal pairs 
in one arm of the nave, he has added a series in the other arm contrasting 
and comparing the forces of charity and those of despotism: charity 
versus dictatorship, sorrowing humanity and the militarized masses. 2 

2 These titles are from Justino Fernandez, Jose Clemente Orozco: forma e idea, 
Porrua, Mexico, 1942. 


First comes a group of frightening and savage leaders known as The 
Dictators, who set in motion columns of highly abstract marchers waving 
gray-green banners, the leaders in contrasting green and brick red. Then 
come The Militarized Masses, with endless columns of robotlike forms 
moving from background to foreground and turning right at the end 
into the next panel, Despotism. Here the little mannikins are met by a huge 
man-form, its head cut off by the side of the panel; the figure is dressed 
in jackboots and belted shirt and holds a knout in its fist. All three of the 
panels on this side have strands of barbed wire in the foreground, a 
continuous accent underlining Orozco's reference to the imprisoned 
human spirit. 

Directly across the aisle is another trio of panels. A group of dark- 
brown anonymous Demagogues (opposite Despotism) stands on a series of 
platforms, waving their arms against the gray background. This is 
followed by a mass of figures symbolizing Sorrowing Humanity, in violet- 
gray with black outlines against a background of sharply angled build- 
ings with facades in orange and reddish purple. This melancholy crowd 
moves left into the next panel to meet the founder of the Hospicio 
Cabanas, Archbishop Juan Cruz Ruiz de Cabanas y Crespo (1752-1824), 
who stands in a blue doorway that is part of an orange building con- 
tinued out of the previous panel. In his luminous purple robes, he blesses 
three little orphan girls and three women who kneel before him. 

In the other arm of the nave, the series of wall panels begins with a 
flying mass of apocalyptic horsemen, black and brown symbols of The 
Tragic; the horses but not the riders are visible as the) - move over the 
square roofs of a town. In the next panel, The Religious, a church tower 
emerges over the city roofs — this is Guadalajara and its Church of San 
Felipe. The third section features a group of heroic armored figures seen 
through a vivid blue stylized sentry box, and represents The Conquered. 

Across the way from these three representations is The Unknown (op- 
posite The Tragic), a powerful orange-colored architectural symbol 
offering a wall and column section through which is partly visible the 
imminently triumphant Spaniard against the red and yellow banner of 
Spain, while on the near side appears the hooded blue figure of a sorrow- 
ing Mexico. Opposite The Religious is The Scientific, a gigantic metal wheel 
rolling forward over the ruins of Aztec civilization in the yellow-red 
sunrise of a new day. The third and last section in this group is a less 
effective series of architectural forms symbolizing The Baroque, placed 
opposite The Conquered. 

Although individually effective and poetically powerful, these panels 
must be considered as they were planned, together and in the context of 
the architecture. Moreover, each side of the nave has its own organized 
meaning, with one wall opposed to or complementing the other. 

From this carefully balanced didactic and allegorical material, we 
look upward to the pendentives (see fig. 67), with their brown-green- 


black nudes, their highly Expressionistic drawing, and white highlights. 
Above these are the rectangular divisions of the drum with various 
similarly colored figures representing the constructive activities of man- 
kind: e.g. a pair of hands molding a vase, a stone carver working on a 
head, or a symbol of architecture. 

On the climactic dome, in tones ranging from stone gray to vivid 
flaming red, Orozco has achieved what is perhaps his greatest single 
composition. More effective than the dome of the University, this arrange- 
ment involves first the three reclining figures in blackish gray around the 
base of the dome, representing Earth, Water, and Air. Moving upward 
is the flying, flame-wrapped figure of Fire, a marvelously foreshortened 
conception, with reddish-brown body and reddish-yellow flames enframed 
by the ring of dark arms belonging to the figures below (fig. 69). 
Although it is customary to give these figures the titles indicated, it is 
perhaps more justifiable to think of this cupola as a summing up not 
only of the meaning of this building but of Orozco's philosophy as a whole. 
Here mankind is seen in its barest essence, two of its proponents on the 
ground frantically struggling for mastery, a third looking upward to the 
prophecy of the future, the lambent symbol of man rising above his 
environment, dematerialized in form but humanized in spirit. Here, 
without the aid of the conventional and traditional symbols, Orozco has 
again created his own world of meaning, his own distillations of a great 
and overpowering feeling for mankind. From the historicity of the nave 
with its torment and horror, through the apocalyptic vision of the vaults 
and the pendentives, he carries us into the blazing firmament of the 
dome, into his own version of a Heaven where man is finally raised 
from the ground into the realm of the spirit. Together with the Riveras 
at Ghapingo and the Siquciros works at Chilian in Chile (1942), these 
paintings of Orozco must rank with the greatest murals produced in 
the Americas. 

In 1940 Orozco accepted another mural commission, this time for the 
Gabino Ortiz Library in Jiquilpan in the state of Michoacan, where the 
retiring president, General Lazaro Cardenas, wished to make a suitable 
gift to his native city. Here a former chapel was converted into a library, 
offering a long nave and a curved apse for the painter's purposes. Un- 
fortunately, however, the nave walls seemed to Orozco somewhat too 
long for the curved, pointed apse in the rear. To avoid overbalancing the 
design, he chose to paint the apse in his characteristic flaming colors and 
the side panels in an almost exclusively black and white arrangement that 
makes them look like monumental lithographs. As in the Guadalajara 
Hospicio and University murals, he again balanced historical narrative 
(the wall panels) with a symbolic and climactic moment (the apse). 

The black and white rectangular panels on the side walls, some of 
which are touched with vivid spots of red in the Revolutionary banners, 
represent a high point in the abstract emotional direction in which we 


have seen Orozco's art moving since Pomona. Some are primarily re- 
presentational: Las Acordadas, with the bound Indian dragged behind his 
oppressor's horse; The Executed against the wall; Brute Forces, with power- 
ful horses surging over inert humanity, and so on. On the other hand, 
there are panels such as The Masses (fig. 70) — there are two of these — in 
which Orozco, in a partly nonfigurative manner, unleashes his despair 
and anger at the unreasoning power and brutality of revolutions in 


orozco. Fire, dome detail, fresco, hospicio cabanas, Guadalajara. 




orozco. The Masses, fresco. 


symbols that are all screaming mouths, red flags, and violence. Compar- 
ing his early drawings of the Revolution (see figs. 34, 35) with the black 
and white style of Jiquilpan, we can see the distance Orozco has traveled 
along the road of emotive abstraction. During the 'forties, with the murals 
in the Hospital of Jesus, the logical climax of this development will be 

Balancing the long walls of black and white panels are a painting over 
the front entrance door and the work covering the apse in the rear. The 
former shows two tigers (the so-called Mexican tigre is actually a jaguar), 
one on each side of the doorway; they are climbing a giant cactus bush, 
while above them two horrible travesties of female Liberty symbols 
stretch a snake-headed ribbon across the top of the door. 

On the far side of the building in the curve of the pointed apse is an 
Allegory of Mexico (fig. 71) in which Orozco features the proud figure of 
an Indian woman in reddish brown riding on the brown-black tiger of 


Mexico. The latter is covered with a vivid red cloth and moves through 
green cactus. With the tiger stretching across the lower part of the panel, 
the strong bolt-upright figure of the woman becomes part of a pyramid 
that includes in magnificent three-dimensional fashion the snake-and- 
eagle symbol of Mexico. This symbol protects proud Mexico from 
another tiger trying to get around the pyramid to attack the woman and 
her mount. This second tiger is a voracious, hungry beast that symbolizes 
the menace of imperialism. It comes sweeping forward parallel with the 
left-hand curve of the arch and passes by its instigator, the winged, derby- 
hatted figure at the left. To the right are the guardians of Mexico's rights 
(Law, Liberty, Justice) — three women with crowns and rifles representing 
the combination of idealism and force necessary to maintain the freedom 
and independence of that country. 

The entire scene is shown before a huge Mexican flag in red, white, 


orozco. Allegory of Mexico, fresco. 



and green, which occupies all of the upper background and blends with 
the green of the cactus below, the red of the woman riding the tiger, and 
other portions of the wall. Here is Mexico in 1940, having gained a certain 
measure of freedom and a better way of life — a Mexico that must be 
constantly on guard to preserve these gains lest they be despoiled by the 
greedy at home and abroad. 

The portable mural lor the Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art exhibi- 
tion in 1940 at the Museum of Modern Art in Xcw York was carried out 
while Orozco was in the midst of the Jiquilpan commission. Shortly after 
he had begun to work in the Gabino Ortiz Library, the painter was 
called to the United States. Working for the most part before museum 
visitors, he executed a six-part fresco within ten days, between 21 June 
and 30 June. The interchangeable sections of the Dive Bomber are so 
conceived that they can be arranged in any number of schemes, Orozco 
himself preferring six of the main possible patterns. The brochure 
published by the Museum of Modern Art at that time, Orozco 'Explains,' 3 
does no such thing, as the quotation marks in the title indicate. It describes, 
rather, the technical procedures utilized, and has a number of general- 
ized statements from the artist on the nature of painting and the relation- 
ship of the symbolic painter to the public which demands 'program 
notes' for his works. 'The public,' says Orozco, 'refuses to see painting. 
1 hey want to hear painting. They don't care for the show itself, they 
prefer to listen to the barker outside. Free lectures every hour for the 
blind, around the Museum. This way, please.' 

Certain things, however, are clear about the Dive Bomber. It is topical 
in a general way, like the contemporaneous Jiquilpan work warning 
Mexico of renewed dangers to its liberties. Here, a year after the outbreak 
of the Second World War and only a week after the tragic fall of France 
before the mechanized might of the Nazis with their dive bombers and 
tanks, Orozco presents a symbol of the dangers of machine aggression. 
Stylistically this work is a logical outgrowth of the earlier mechanical 
symbols utilized by the painter in the Hospicio murals and at Dartmouth, 
where the Machine Age perhaps came closest to the bleak inhumanity of 
the scene in the Modern Museum. The Dartmouth panel, however, had 
been meant at worst as a denunciation of the tyranny of the machine, 
a tyranny from which man in the Palacio and the Hospicio murals tried 
to escape, and did escape finally. But whatever hopeful elements were 
present in those two works disappear in the Dive Bomber, from whose 
ruined and twisted machine parts the legs of a solitary human being 
protrude, crushed by the metallic demons that have killed each other as 

In the terms of mid-1940, the Dive Bomber is a vivid, accurate report of 
the fear and the spiritual state of mankind. 

Bulletin of The Museum of Modern Art, no. 4, vol. vn, Aug. i<)40. 


1H34 In IH40 


Siquciros's return to Mexico in 1934 was not merely a matter of resuming 
or attempting to resume his mural work, as was the case with Orozco and 
Rivera. For Siqueiros, the business of painting could not be dissociated 
from the class struggle. In 1934 he became president of the militant 
League against War and Fascism, involving himself in further difficulties 
with the police. At the same time he held his first New York exhibition 
at the Delphic Studios of Alma Reed. 

The following year came the public controversy with Rivera on the 
nature of Revolutionary art, a continuation of the battle that had begun 
in New York in 1933 over the New Workers School murals. For Siqueiros 
this was really an attack against all the muralists of the Mexican school, 
particularly against their continued use of the fresco medium and their 
ever-present need for archaeological material and folkloristic elements. 
'We may be able,' said Siqueiros at this time, 'to play a revolutionary 
hymn on a church organ, but it is not really an adequate instrument for 
such a purpose; the fresco, at least technically speaking, does not corres- 
pond to the formal and organic quality of architecture . . . of our time; 
we must turn to the physical and chemical sciences of our time, to 
materials that correspond to industry, that is to the society of which we 
are a part.' 

To this attitude, deriving from his technological experiences in the 
United States, Siqueiros added the idea that buildings should no longer 
be chosen for decoration solely for aesthetic reasons. 'We must turn," he 
said, 'from older colonial ideas to the new public architecture; in this 
area it is appropriate to consider the execution of exterior murals, 
toward the street and facing the passing multitudes.' 1 

Although Siqueiros was not then doing any murals, he had already 
applied some of these principles in his since destroyed Los Angeles works 
and in the Buenos Aires example. For easel painting, he consistently used 
the Duco paint medium (a du Pont trade name for all pyroxilin paints) 
adapted from industrial procedures' such as the spray-painting of auto- 
mobiles. Although it was at first fashionable to decry the 'impermanence' 
and 'inadequacy' of this medium, Siqueiros was able to demonstrate as 

1 70 Obras Recientes de David Alfaro Siqueiros, pp. 20-2 1 . 


early as 1935 the plasticity of the pyroxilin technique in such pictures 
as the Portrait of Maria Asiinsolo (Maria Asunsolo collection) 2 and many 
other figure paintings of the time. Here with the synthetic lacquer paint 
is achieved a sculpturesque solidity, especially in the masklike face and 
the powerfully modeled arms and hands, with their special textures and 
resonant dark tonalities. This monumentality and three-dimensional 
movement of form are also conveyed in a number of the lithographs of 
this period, especially the well-known Self-Portrait (fig. 72), which seems 
to leap from the picture space. The strong forward-moving accents of the 
curly hair, the line of the ear, the curve of the nose, and the movements of 
the shadows on the face underline the outgoing and fiery glance of this 
romantic conception of the artist's own features. 

2 20 Centuries of Mexican Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, i<)40, 
p. 164. 


sioueiros. Self Portrait, lithograph. 




In 1 936 Siqueiros went to New York as a delegate to the American Artists 
Congress, where he delivered a paper on The Mexican Experience in Art. 
The L.E.A.R. point of view expressed in this paper reiterated an attitude 
previously stated by Siqueiros himself, that revolutionary art was not 
merely a matter of content or theme but also a problem of form — a point 
on which he parted company from the didactic Rivera and his elaborate 
preachments. Siqueiros also spoke of the need for art forms that could 
reach the greatest number of people, e.g. print media. Important among 
the ideas offered was that of seeking new types of buildings for murals 
instead of the official buildings that were far removed from the masses. 

After the Congress, Siqueiros founded the Experimental Workshop in 
New York in 1936, known as the Siqueiros Experimental Workshop to 
those who carried it on after he left for the Spanish civil war. The basic 
purpose of this association was to investigate modern materials and 
instruments as well as the subjective elements involved in artistic creation, 
and here Siqueiros made the final shift from oils to pyroxilin and other 
new materials. He realized more fully than ever before the richness of 
form and the depth that could be achieved through the quick-drying 
glazes of pyroxilin paint. The addition of fibers, sawdust, marble dust, 
and so on, gave a heavy impasto to the works and added to the flexibility 
of the basic Duco medium. 

Its concern with the elements proper to modern painting, both spiritual 
and technical, gave the Experimental Workshop a special importance, 
particularly among the more radical artists in New York. During the 
few years of its existence, among its adherents were a good many members 
of the later Taller de Grafica Popular, including Arenal, Berdecio, and 
Pujol, all important for subsequent graphic works. Also active in the 
Workshop was Jose L. Gutierrez, who was to make significant contribu- 
tions to the development and application of ethyl silicate and vinylite 
paints. Although it is difficult to assay the specific effect of the Workshop 
on American art at this point, Siqueiros's paintings of 1936 had their 
influence — e.g. Collective Suicide, Birth of Fascism, Stop the War, or simpler 
but equally moving single figures such as The Frightened Child, Negro 
Woman, the already mentioned lithograph, Self-Portrait, and so on. 

In addition to new media and appropriate ideas for revolutionary 
painting (to paint what one sees with all the conviction at one's command, 
whether battles, beggars, or boys at play), Siqueiros also worked on the 
possible aids to be derived from the still camera and the motion-picture 
camera. These, he felt, could increase space elements, especially volumes 
in space, achieve complex movements, and generally further the mobile 
idea conceived after his contact with Eisenstein, an idea he had first 
attempted to work out in the Buenos Aires mural. He believed that the 
camera (both still and moving) could be the basis of a new realism and 
that it could make possible the combination of objectivity and subjectiv- 
ity necessary for that purpose. 


An example of this consciousness of the camera effect is the well-known 
Echo of a Scream (1937, Museum of Modern Art). Siqueiros must have 
been tremendously affected, as many others had been, by the heart- 
wrenching pathos of the newsreel shot showing an almost naked Chinese 
baby seated in the midst of a wrecked railroad track and screaming, after 
one of the Japanese bombardments of invaded China. In this pyroxilin 
painting it is as though the scream issuing from the mouth of the aban- 
doned child grows larger, unbearably larger, until in its vividly seen double 
image it spreads into the entire upper part of the picture and echoes out 
into space. 

Since the end of 1936 Siqueiros had intended to go to Spain as a 
pictorial propagandist for the Loyalist forces. When he arrived there in 
1937, he found himself engaged in regular military activities, taking part 
in a number of important campaigns and rising to the rank of Colonel. 
By 1939 he was back in Mexico, where he founded a pro-Loyalist review 
called Documental, and engaged in other antifascist activities against the 
older Spanish inhabitants of Mexico. Again he was attacked by the 
conservative press, this time as El Coronelazo (The Big Colonel), a sarcastic 
appellation he has used with great pride since then. This spate of activity 
ended with another brief jail sentence. 

But he was painting as well, first for his show at the Pierre Matisse 
Gallery in New York (three of these pictures were bought for the Modern 
Museum) and then for his one important mural project of the period. 
In the Electrical Workers Union in Mexico City he worked with a team 
consisting of Luis Arenal, Antonio Pujol, Jose Renau, and a group of 
Mexican and United States assistants on a mural called The Trial of 
Fascism (fig. 73). 

Done in pyroxilin on the three walls and ceiling of a rather small 
staircase, Siqueiros's exposition of the presumable steps from capitalism 
to monopoly to imperialism to fascism to war was projected with his 
new modern techniques. The approximately one hundred square meters 
of this enclosure were painted with the aid of a still camera for some of the 
sketches, an electric stereopticon to project the drawings as they were 
made for transfer, and a spray gun for applying the paint to the wall 
surface. As in the Echo of a Scream and many other works from this point 
on, we see immediately the relation between the painting and specific- 
photographic and documentary material from newspapers, magazines, 
et cetera. 

The full-scale view of this mural shows in the center a group of photo- 
graphically painted, dead child-victims of the Spanish civil war, placed 
in the maw of some horrible machine, also seen with the same relentless 
clarity. Immediately overhead is the distorted dive bomber that brought 
death and destruction to these children and that is about to engulf 
Europe (fig. 74). 

To left and right of the central scene are two gas-masked and helmeted 




sioueiros. Trial of Fascism, pyroxilin. 


groups of the 'fascists.' The Tokyo-Rome-Beriin fascists stand at the 
right — with a tiny photographic rendition of a weeping Chinese mother 
and her dead child painted near the Japanese representative. At the left 
of the central child-swallowing machine is a group of three nonmilitary 
figures, this time the democratic nations that are at that moment allegedly 
yielding to fascism in their several ways: Britain, France, and the United 

I 171 


siqueiros. Trial of Fascism, 
detail, pyroxilin. 


Pill >'!'( ) I Ol'k I I SY I III- PAIN II R 

States, identified, like the first trio, by little flags that have been projected 
on them by the stereopticon and painted on as transparencies. The 
British figure is dressed in the wing collar and spats that suggest Chamber- 
lain, the French symbol is that of a paunchy and Laval-like figure, while 
the United States is shown as an informally dressed person with a number 
of lynched Negroes hanging close by. To the left of these representatives 
of the democracies, the painter has indicated a burning parliament 
building whose pediment motto, 'Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite,' is partly 
obscured by a film-projected outline of a money bag. On the steps we see 
similar transparencies of little people scurrying about. 



siqueiros. Trial of Fascism, 
detail, pyroxilin. 



To the extreme left and right of this outspoken view of the modern po- 
litical scene, Siqueiros has placed two enlarged and contrasting symbols. 
On the right the figure of a determined man of the people, who has only 
a rifle and courage to defend himself and his country (a vivid idealized 
portrayal of the Spanish and other nonprofessional soldiers), points his 
weapon diagonally across to the other side of the mural, toward the arch- 
symbol of the fascist demagogue (fig. 75). There at the far left on the side 
wall stands a puppet figure fixed to a mechanical device for raising and 
lowering it in the pulpit. It is a two-headed, multi-armed figure with the 
face of a vulture, one arm waving a torch, another waving a kind of 
baton, and the third holding a tiny pansy (a reference to Hitler's ambigu- 


ous sex). It stands before a microphone and sets into motion the waves 
of tiny figures that stream from the wall opening in the rear. These move 
toward the podium of the ranting speaker, swing sharply right, and then 
wheel inward to the parliament building they are about to overwhelm. 
In the rear of the mural, similar endless groups of mannikins move in 
rigid formation across the wall surface, furnishing a background for a 
projected image of a poor weeping woman and her little daughter amid 
dynamically overlapping Futurist planes of light. The entire composition, 
from the Hitler caricature at the left to the fighting worker at the right, 
is set on a platform above a menacing below-ground mechanical maze 
that forms the basis of Siqueiros's conception of the development from 
capitalism to war. 

These wall surfaces show a spatial treatment never before felt in any 
mural. The spectator finds himself surrounded by movements and double 
views of all kinds as he is enveloped by the four-sided space box formed by 
the three walls and the overhead area. From the front, the mural gives 
a series of perspective impressions that is markedly altered as we look 
left or right. The figure of Hitler, for example, has more than the usual 
number of arms and heads, so that he can be seen from different points 
of view. Such a device lends to the mural as a whole a quality of move- 
ment that enables us to move comfortably through the spatial complex, 
always able to see a coherent picture and not limited to the frontal 
visualization point. This may be tested lay simply turning the image of 
Hitler's vulture head on its side, which will give an entirely new but 
equally complete configuration of that head. 

Also taken into account is the relation between the walls and the 
ceiling. These areas are fused by Siqueiros's dynamic perspective dis- 
tortions that bring them together in a new kind of unified action. The 
eye moves through these spaces like a motion-picture camera, catching 
one view here, another there, seeing some things in sharp focus, others 
as though after-images still remained. The spectator is forced into an 
entirely new method of looking, absorbing, and understanding that 
becomes increasingly appropriate for the artist's exhortatory purposes. 

Here in the mural of the Electrical Workers Union, Siqueiros has 
achieved his first complete synthesis of modern techniques and political 
ideas. It marks the end of a period of experimentation dating back to the 
Los Angeles mural, and is already a fully formed technique that will be 
applied with growing effectiveness during the next period, which pro- 
duces the full flowering of his neo-Realism. 

In 1940 Siqueiros became involved in the unfortunate Trotsky affair 
which resulted in the death of Trotsky's secretary. For his alleged part 
in this situation, the painter was jailed for a short time and, though 
'freed and legally absolved,' was forced to go into exile. While Mexico 
was not for him for the time being, there were still many things he could 
do elsewhere in art and in politics. 

174 | 

1934 to 1940 


Rivera's progress during this period is less spectacular and creative than 
that of either Orozco or Siqueiros. His work represents rather a continu- 
ation of the didactic and decorative line laid out earlier in his career, 
although far less actively than before. Rivera still had the most impressive 
reputation of all the Revolutionary painters, but his equivocal political 
position, already visible in the struggle at the Academy in 1930 and 
climaxed during this period by his sponsorship of Trotsky, made him 
persona non grata to the increasingly powerful leftist intellectuals. 

His two government projects of this era both rank as completions of 
'unfinished business.' The Palacio de Bellas Artes mural of 1934 was 
a more or less faithful reconstitution of the painting destroyed by Rocke- 
feller Center authorities the previous year (fig. 76). Similarly, the final 
wall had to be done in the National Palace stairway; this had been 
waiting since Rivera left for San Francisco in 1930. Once these two 
commissions were out of the way, Rivera's role in the mural movement 
became a subordinate one for some time, confined to the Hotel Reforma 
commission, which was never made available to the public on its original 
site, and to the mural done for the San Francisco World's Fair in 1940. 
His easel paintings, on the other hand, were quite plentiful, ranging over 
a wide field of subject matter and reflecting his general aesthetic qualities 
with often greater effectiveness than the wall paintings of the time. 

Man at the Crossroads is the title generally given to the 1934 expository 
mural on the third floor of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, just opposite the 
Orozco Katharsis of that same year. Xo greater contrast of intent and 
purpose could be imagined. The Orozco work emphasizes purgation, 
human suffering, and even the destruction of the world as a prelude to 
its improvement, as well as dynamic Expressionism of color, composition, 
and form distortion. The Rivera work, on the other hand, is almost 
classical in the Renaissance sense; its forms are carefully balanced, one 
group against another around a carefully and quietly worked out X 
shape and a vertical axis running from top to bottom. Color here, as in 
most of Rivera's work, is bland; it offers a compositionally unifying 
element in a light green that pervades the entire work. There are vivid 
touches of blue-green also. While these colors undoubtedly help to hold 
the composition together, they do not animate or set anything in motion. 
They have no emotional force whatsoever, in contrast to the general 
coloristic purpose in Orozco. 


"«3i3". .. 


rivera. Man at the Crossroads, fresco. 



In the same way we may contrast the meaning of the diagonals here 
and in the Orozco work. Here they are used for purposes of unification, 
balance, and dialectic, as they help to oppose millionaires to workers, 
capitalist armies at the upper left to workers' armies at the upper right, 
the world of nature below to the world of the machine above, and so on. 
In Orozco, on the other hand, the diagonals create an asymmetrical 
effect that moves the eye diagonally up and down and side to side in a 
deliberately disturbing fashion, bringing the various parts of the compo- 
sition into a state of dynamic rather than static balance. 

The greatest contrast between the two works, however, is in their 
respective intellectual and social attitudes. Rivera's, however static, is 
crystal-clear and logical, everything put into its proper place, with a 
beginning and an end. The worker placed at the crossroads, holding in 
his strong right hand the lever that will determine the future, is given 
a definite choice: the world of socialism at his left or the world of capital- 
ism at his right. These are symbolized first by the group of workers of all 
ages around the (previously controversial) figure of Lenin. Balancing it 
on the other side is a night-club scene with the (actually abstemious) 
John D. Rockefeller, Jr., holding a champagne glass in one hand and the 
slim fingers of a young lady in the other — a gratuitous but understandable 
gibe from the bitter Diego. In the upper sections is the same contrast: 
the workers with their red banners yelling before the Kremlin wall versus 
the anonymous menacing soldiers of the capitalist world. 

At the extreme left and right are two sections that were separate panels 
in Radio City. These are now incorporated into the main design through 
a pair of enormous magnifying glasses that offer the people portrayed at 
either end of the wall a view into Rivera's future. Workers and children 
of all races and ages look through these magnifiers into the alternative 
worlds envisaged by the painter. Out of the left-hand section emerges the 
gray, sculptured figure of Religion, rising handless from a mass of un- 
employed and visible against a panorama of Wall Street. The workers 
are harassed by mounted police and then by the masked and helmeted 
figures of war, the inevitable consequence of these circumstances. From 
the right-hand section rises the gray, headless figure of Fascism conquered 
by the socialist groups portrayed here. The upper portion shows the 
ordered ranks of the present Soviet leadership and their followers, a not 
too attractive-appearing group that includes Stalin, while in the lower 
section Marx, Engels, and Trotsky urge the workers of the world to 'unite 
in the IYth International.' 

As for the young worker in the center of the mural, he has at his 
command the resources of nature and those of the machine age to help 
him determine his future — either to the right or to the left. The pious, 
Gros-like look of the Heaven-directed eyes is in line with previously noted 
Rivera expression, and underlines a general hopefulness that is in strong 
contrast to the fatalism of Orozco and the direct activism of Siqueiros. 


Rivera has been very specific here, using the telescope in the center to 
symbolize man's looking toward infinite space and the microscope to 
denote the tiniest forms on earth. The diagonal from lower left to upper 
right contains the movements of the planets and the nebulae, while the 
other diagonal shows the forms revealed by the microscope. 

Orozco, on the other hand, is far less interested in telling a story or 
preaching a political sermon; his chief concerns are his symbols of human 
anguish and his own pessimism. Siqueiros, in another fashion, offers 
an optimistic attitude; it is however, an optimism springing not merely 
from doctrinal faith in the future but also from a profound belief that 
much can be accomplished through struggle. 

The Rivera Palacio mural is basically the same as that in Radio City, 
with a number of relatively unimportant changes. These include the in- 
corporation of the side sections into the main body of the mural, the 
change in the night-club scene to add the figure of Mr. Rockefeller, and 
the addition of Trotsky and Marx. Like the 1935 final staircase wall in 
the National Palace, the Palacio mural underlines the changed political 
climate at the end of the Calles period and the beginning of the Cardenas 

After the relative compositional calm of the Palacio painting, the left- 
hand staircase wall in the National Palace has a violence of mood and a 
directness of personal reference that suggest the New Workers School 
paintings of 1933. We must make the same reservation, however, that 
the things and people he attacks are no longer in a position to strike back 
very effectively. The villain of this mural wall is the Calles administration, 
with all its venality and corruption, its murder of agraristas, its unscrup- 
ulous demagogic politicians, its resistance to progress in any form. But 
Calles had already been thoroughly discredited by the progressive 
Cardenas administration, and it was now quite clear that the Calles 
forces were in check. 

In all fairness to Rivera, it is entirely possible that what was intended 
here was to show the iniquities of the previous administration (which he 
had attacked on the rear wall by implication some years earlier; see 
chap, vm) and the triumph of justice in the new period. Being a professed 
Marxist, Rivera was bound to show this triumph in terms of the Marxist 
revolution, as indicated in a banner held by Marx at the very top of the 
wall: '. . .it is not a question of reforming the society of today but rather 
of forming a new society.' This is the climactic point in Diego's narrative, 
which presents the sinister trio of Banker (Calles), Army, and Church in a 
rectangular space from which lines radiate to their respective henchmen: 
the National Socialists, strikebreakers, peon murderers, demagogues, and 
so on. From the toil, suffering, and religious subjection of the Mexican 
people, these persons pump an endless flow of gold coins that passes 
through the religious shrine below. This is a serious and violent indict- 
ment of a situation from which Mexico had not then (or even later) freed 



rivera. Agnstin Lorenzo, fresco. 





rivera. Fiesta, fresco. 



itself, but the Marxist answer does not necessarily represent that of the 
Cardenas government. The uncompromising call to further revolution 
may be taken as Rivera's refusal to countenance reformism, an attitude 
which may be justified from the point of view of international Marxism 
but which in the light of the current situation in Mexico appears ex- 
tremely visionary. 

The third and final mural project of the period was for the Hotel Re- 
forma on the elegant Paseo de la Reforma, a hotel designed primarily 
for the tourist trade (as indeed were the murals themselves). This was 
another of the causes celebres in which Rivera has involved himself from 
time to time. Here he designed a set of four movable mural panels 
presumably concerned with popular festivals, particularly those of Hue- 
xotzingo, but with more or less obvious comments on the contemporary 
situation, which soon led to removal of the panels from the hotel. 

One section is a simple colorful representation of festival dances in 
ancient Indian and nineteenth-century French occupation costumes, to 
which no one could object on political grounds. The second is a satire 
on tourism and features a rather gangly woman in the background and 
two black donkeys, one writing and one holding money bags, a reference 
to the anticlerical Caprichos of Goya and intended here for a similar 
purpose. A third panel (fig. 77) is another mask festival, with a huge 
puppetlike figure emerging against waving flags; its curious face is a 
combination of Calles, Hitler, and Roosevelt, and reinforces the impress- 
ion of Diego's intransigence. Beneath this, a masked general in charro 
costume swings a whip that somehow takes the form of a sickle, while at 
the right a pig-faced soldier dances with a peasant girl. Perhaps the most 
effective portion of the panel is the yellow Straw Man at the lower right. 
The would-be satire on dictatorship intended by the large composite 
figure above, with its tiny banner combining the emblems of the United 
States, Japan, Nazi Germany, and England, leaves something to be 
desired both as composition and as symbolism. 

The most dramatic and again a completely uncontroversial panel in 
this commission shows the guerrilla leader Agustin Lorenzo as a dashing 
equestrian figure followed by some of his companions and striking out 
lustily at the French zouaves of Louis Napoleon, whose symbol is seen 
in the outline at the upper right (fig. 78). The green-cloaked rider on a 
blue-gray horse makes a striking combination with the red and blue of 
the French soldiers' costumes. More interesting, this picture, unlike most 
of Rivera's works of any period, has a flair and excitement that are quite 

When the murals were first put up, it became evident that Rivera had 
deliberately satirized the Archbishop of Mexico and a well-known 
Mexican general (apart from the implications of the 'Dictator'). When 
the Hotel Reforma management had a number of changes made in these 
offending portions, Rivera in righteous wrath initiated a strike of the 



rivera. Mother and Child, tempera and oil. new york, coll. mrs. james henk. 


Wall Painters Union, of which he was a member. The result was the sale 
of the panels to a leading book and picture dealer, who left them on view 
at the Galeria de Arte Mexicano. Rivera got very little money out of this 
project but had the satisfaction of being once more the center of a 
politico-artistic controversy. 

For the next few years, 1936-40, his activities were confined to easel 
paintings. The portraits, which seem to be so popular and desirable, are 
by no means brilliant studies. His poetic landscapes, on the other hand, 
have a fine, firm, and imaginative quality that makes them worthy of the 
painter's talent. In the same way, the much-heralded primitive dances, 
e.g. Dance of the Earth, 1 mildly interesting for their linear design, are an 
unassimilated departure from Rivera's basic qualities. These are revealed 
far more sympathetically and with great effect in such paintings as the 
Mother and Child (fig. 79, 1935, Mrs. James Henk collection, New York) 
or the Scavenger of the same year in the Earlham College collection at 
Richmond, Indiana. In these works, in various water-colors, drawings, 
and lithographs of the same general content, Rivera reveals himself once 
again as a master draftsman and capable of tremendous lyrical feeling. 
Although historically Rivera has great significance in the mural move- 
ment, one may wonder if artistically these smaller and more modest works 
are not just as important. 

Apparently in exile from the main Mexican mural development 
during this period, Rivera's first chance in a half a decade came in 1940 
with a commission from San Francisco Junior College for the Golden 
Gate International Exposition that year. In keeping with his variously ex- 
pressed ideas on the need for combining the art forms of the South 
(Mexico primarily) with the machine civilization of the North, he 
painted a series of five longitudinal panels (about twenty-five meters wide 
by about seven meters high). One of these shows on its left side a series 
of forms inspired by the Aztec goddess Coatlique and on the right others 
derived from the machine age, while before them a group of sculptors is 
carving out the future. At the bottom a benign Diego extends the hand of 
Pan-American friendship to a charming young woman, apparently 
Paulette Goddard, the film actress (cf. the San Francisco Luncheon Club 
mural showing Helen Wills as the symbol of California) . 

Other panels are concerned with the development of Mexican and 
United States civilization and contain portraits of significant historical 
figures such as Lincoln, Washington, et cetera, and artists such as Ryder. 
In San Francisco, Rivera no longer felt it necessary to include the United 
States in his list of dictator nations — times had changed. He now set up 
a trio consisting of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. After this work, three 
years would pass before Rivera would do a mural again. 

1 Illustrated in 20 Centuries of Mexican Art, p. 173. 


The Mexican School of Painting 
1934 lo 1940 


The general situation in Mexican art during this period — apart from the 
contributions of the now 'big four' 1 — is reflected in the already indicated 
group activity of both the L.E.A.R. and the Taller de Grafica Popular and 
in the work of a number of individuals of equally marked social tend- 

The not altogether successful group project at the Abelardo Rodriguez 
Market in 1934-5 involved future Taller members Bracho, O'Higgins, 
and Pujol (as well as other painters) in an often clumsy and generally 
Riveresque type of art filled with Revolutionary cliches that became 
increasingly typical as this period wore on. In many subsequent cases, 
the Rivera-derived decorativeness was supplemented by a stiff monu- 
mentality based on the early Orozcos of the Preparatory School. This 
may be seen, for example, in the joint project at the National Printing 
Office (Talleres Graficos de la Nation) in 1936, where O'Higgins 
together with Mendez, Zalce, and Fernando Gamboa did a series of 
murals that marks a considerable advance over the Rodriguez Market, to 
the degree that there were fewer individuals involved and more of 
Orozco fire than Rivera decoration. 

Many schools were decorated in the Federal District during this 
period and later, and they represent the same balance of the qualities 
of the two masters. This mixture was already apparent in the 1933 murals 
previously mentioned (except for the more independent contribution of 
Castellanos) and remains evident until the late 'forties in such works as 
the O'Higgins-Mendez mural in Maternity Clinic No. 1 of the Social 
Security Administration (1946-7). In cases such as this one, the artists 
have managed to exorcise Riverism by admitting more of the Orozco 
influence, which has penetrated also through their individual work in 
different media; and above all, they have achieved a more dynamic 
social approach. 

The experience of Pablo O'Higgins, for example, illustrates this process 
of an overwhelming Rivera influence changing to something else. Coming 
to Mexico in 1924 at the end of the first 'golden age,' he worked as 
Rivera's assistant at Chapingo and in the Ministry of Education from 

1 Including Tamavo. 


1925 to 1927. After two years as a cultural worker in Durango and a year 
of teaching drawing in the elementary schools, he spent 1931-2 in Soviet 
Russia on a scholarship. Returning to Mexico, he participated in the 1933 
new mural movement and in the 1934-5 joint murals at the Abelardo 
Rodriguez Market. At this point his style began to depart from the 
deeply inculcated Rivera method, and by the time he arrived at the 
National Printing Office he had turned in the new direction. Between 
that assignment and the murals of the 'forties, he engaged in a good deal 
of graphic work, underwent strong influences from Orozco, and became 
a leader in the radical art movement of the Cardenas period. 

With the single exception of Siqueiros, Leopoldo Mendez is perhaps 
the most significant radical artist of the Cardenas era. He has worked in 
the mural field only in association with others (e.g. the Talleres Graficos 
or Maternity Clinic No. 1 ). In the one case where he seems to have worked 
alone, in the Assembly Hall of UNESCO at Mexico City in 1947, he 
enlarged woodcuts to giant scale as wall decorations — a brilliant tour 
de force but with very little relation to painting. 

Among individual artists not hitherto mentioned whose style and 
content reflect the general Revolutionary character of the 1934-40 period, 
we may cite Antonio Ruiz (b. 1897). After a period in Hollywood 
working on sets for Universal Films, Ruiz returned to Mexico in 1929 
and applied the great precision and accuracy of style developed in his 
colonial movie sets to the everyday themes and Revolutionary subjects 
of the Cardenas period. His well-known Street Meeting of 1935 is an 
example of one of the many facets of the socially conscious art movement 
in the 'thirties, utilizing basically conservative techniques with radical 
subject matter. Ruiz is also important for his work in the Mexican 
theater, especially plays for children, and for the fact that some of his 
work, including the Street Meeting, is closely related to popular painting 
of the nineteenth century. 

Parallel with Ruiz, at least technically, is the talented architect-painter 
Juan O'Gorman, who has already been mentioned in connection with 
the short-lived Rivera administration at the Academy of San Carlos in 
1929-30. At that time also, O'Gorman built the Rivera house in Coyo- 
acan, one of the first modern residences in Mexico and an important 
point of departure for modern architecture in that country. 

One of O'Gorman's most interesting contributions to the Mexican 
mural movement lies in the since removed frescoes in the waiting room 
of the Mexico City airport. These were done under the patronage of 
General Francisco Miigica, author of the celebrated Articles 27 and 123 
in the 1917 Constitution and Minister of Communications under Carde- 
nas. In view of the convictions of both sponsor and artist, it is scarcely 
surprising that these panels contained the violent anti-Church, anti- 
fascist statements they did. Working between 1937 and 1938, O'Gorman 
produced a fine philosophical if somewhat sarcastic summary of flying, 

18 1 

iT( to < :t" t;:k arti; 


o'gorman. History of Religion, fresco, painted in waiting room 



religion, history, and so on, a work of art quite different in spirit and 
form from the usual run of Mexican murals during this period (fig. 80). 

Coloristically the panels were by no means startling; they displayed 
O'Gorman's usual color gamut, including bright red, greens, and blues, 
which stand out in small areas. But this pleasant color arrangement is in 
strong contrast to a clear, precise drawing, a deliberately cold, hard 
realism of delineation that is quietly merciless in its effect. The clergy of 
yesterday and today in the left-hand corner are shown with the same 
sardonic humor as the superstitious colonial nobility in the lower right, 
while all around are little touches of religious scenes of flying figures: 
Ascensions, Elijah's chariot, et cetera. Needless to say, the Church was 
not happy about this work. The companion panel contains a number of 
small historical spots, many of them contemporary and equally mordant, 
however controlled in form. One of these bits shows a series of serpents 
emerging from the top of O'Gorman's characteristic fantastic architectural 
painting, two of the snakes with the heads of Mussolini and Hitler. 

By 1938, with the expropriation of foreign oil concessions and the need 
for disposing of Mexico's oil to fascist nations, who were the only ones 
willing to break the boycott of England and the United States, the Axis 
powers were at least temporarily in the category of friendly nations. In 
addition, following the defeat of the Spanish Loyalists in 1939, increasing 
pressures were felt from fascist and Falangist-minded groups. Thus the 
offending political panels of O'Gorman were destroyed. Only a small 
part of the original eighty-five square meters of fresco — the central and 
highly detailed History of Aviation (1937) — was permitted to exist in the 
face of the extreme right-wing pressure. This remaining portion is now 
in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. 

But O'Gorman continued to paint, producing easel pictures with the 
same dry, meticulous, but highly imaginative and personal style. In 
1941-2 he did an impressively large (fifteen meters by twelve and a half 
meters) mural in the Gertrudis Bocanegra Library at Patzcuaro. Here he 
has given a history of one thousand years in the three-story-high panel 
which must rank among the most elaborate wall decorations ever to be 
painted. It is a narrative history of the state of Michoacan — where the 
city of Patzcuaro is located — from pre-Conquest times down to the 
Revolution; Zapata, Morelos, and the great folk heroine, Gertrudis 
Bocanegra, are included. 

O'Gorman is one of the few Mexican painters to devote himself to 
landscape; he has produced such work as the well-organized and textur- 
ally sensitive Los Remedios of 1943, the View of Chalma, and many others. 
Here, as in his mural paintings, is evident the meticulous draftsmanship 
of the architecturally trained person as well as the influence of foreign 
artists such as Rousseau, the German New Objectivist Kanoldt, the 
pulqueria painters of his own country, and Rivera (especially in color). 
O'Gorman's is a strange dream world, often without people, in which the 

eye is free to roam back and forth in the firm but gentle establishment of 
pictorial and textural balance that marks the painter's work. 

Both by virtue of his critical and historical murals and through his 
great contribution to the architecture of the 'thirties, O'Gorman came 
to occupy a foremost place among his contemporaries. In 1928, he built 
for his father the first functional house in Mexico (Rivera's was done the 
following year). In the middle 'thirties, as head of the Department of 
Construction in the Ministry of Public Instruction (1932-5), he was in 
charge of building thirty new schools, and assumed the leadership in an 
architecture that has since become one of Mexico's important links to the 
progress of the Western world. Not only were new schools built, many 
with murals (a few painted with the help of O'Gorman), but there was 
also a great deal of rebuilding of older schools. O'Gorman helped to 
organize the architectural curriculum of the new Polytechnical Institute; 
and in 1935 he turned seriously to painting the kind of works we have 
cited, pictures that have the clear imprint of his own quiet, sensitive, but 
compelling personality. His 1952 Library Building decorations at the 
gigantic new University City are among the most recent developments 
in Mexican art. 



The War and Postwar Periods 

The end of the six-year Cardenas administration brought with it in- 
creasing pressures from the Nazi and the Franco elements in Mexico. In 
part this was a local reaction against the Revolutionary program of the 
regime, but even more it came because of the world political situation. 
In these circumstances O'Gorman's antifascist, anti-Church murals at 
the Central Airport were destroyed in 1939, an act traceable as much 
to the general swing to the right as to the ambiguous situation of a 
government that could not afford to offend nominally friendly powers. 
The growing conflict between left and right in Mexico was summarized 
in the 1937 Orozco murals in the Guadalajara Government Palace, with 
the Carnival of the Ideologies; the first victory of the Nazis was portrayed 
in his Dive Bomber of 1940. 

In the face of these mounting tensions, especially the imminence of a 
world-wide war, Cardenas realized that it was time to consolidate the 
gains of his administration instead of trying for further advances. The 
resulting nomination and election of the more conservative General 
Manuel Avila Camacho brought into office a man who immediately 
changed the direction of Mexican development from left to center — and 
even to right. Even the un-Revolutionary Avila Camacho, however, was 
not satisfactory to many elements in Mexico at this time, and for a while 
counter-revolution was a definite possibility. Camacho managed to keep 
things on an even keel with the calming aid of Cardenas, his own public 
profession of religious belief, and the support of the United States, which 
sent its vice-president, Henry A. Wallace, to the inauguration in De- 
cember 1940. 

Although there were several drastic slow-downs in the Revolutionary 
course Cardenas had been following, the Mexico of 1940 had traveled a 
long way from the Mexico of twenty years before. Land distribution had 
stopped, but a good deal of emphasis was placed on making the ejidos 
(communal farms) more efficient. The labor movement, though no longer 
closely allied with the government and now under more conservative 
leadership, was still an important factor in national life. The schools 
stopped teaching socialism and attacking the Church; but the appoint- 

ment of Jaime Torres Bodet to the Ministry of Education in 1944 marked 
the beginning of a remarkably effective campaign against illiteracy, in the 
course of which more than a million and a half Mexicans learned to 
read — no mean achievement. Similar swings back from center to left of 
center were made that year in the fields of social security and agrarian 
reform. In general, however, the trend was from agrarian reform toward 
industrial expansion during the Camacho regime and the following 
Aleman period. 

This resulted from the two basic problems of the early 'forties in 
Mexico: the participation of that country in World War II and the 
increasingly close association with the United States, one issue strongly 
bound to the other. The Good Neighbor policy undertaken by the 
Roosevelt administration, the Wallace visit, and the final adjudication of 
the oil dispute put Mexico squarely on the side of the antifascist nations. 
Mexico's growing importance in the community of Latin-American 
nations was symbolized by the election of Lombardo Toledano to head 
the Confederation of Latin-American Workers and by Mexico's leading 
role in the Rio de Janeiro Pan-American Conference in 1942. Thus she 
was able to organize the nations of Central and South America in 
defense of the Western Hemisphere. 

An interesting side light on this situation was the commissioning of 
Siqueiros to decorate the Escuela Mexico in Chile in 1941 after that 
country had suffered an unusually severe earthquake. Finished in 1942, 
this monumental work, with its remarkably apposite title, Death to the 
Invader, furnished an important link in the ties that Mexico was trying 
to forge in Latin America, especially with Chile, which under the in- 
fluence of Argentina had held back from full participation in the decisions 
of the Rio conference. After completion of this project, Siqueiros traveled 
throughout Latin America to mobilize the artists of many different 
countries in the fight against fascism. His 1944 mural in the Palacio de 
Bellas Artes in Mexico City, The New Democracy, was another powerful 
antifascist statement. 

In the case of Orozco, the period began with the Supreme Court 
murals in 1940-41, a strong pro-Revolutionary statement in which he 
pointed out the need to safeguard Mexico's natural resources. His 
Hospital de Jesus murals in 1942-4 reflect the general world-war situation 
in their apocalyptic frenzy and destructive mood. Rivera, on the other 
hand, did not react to the crisis of the times. His 1943 murals in the 
Institute of Cardiology are simply a history of cardiology, however 
attractive. The 1945-50 walls in the National Palace are a meticulous 
and decorative narration of ancient Mexico; a new set done in the Hotel 
Reforma in 1943 merit no comment here; while the Hotel del Prado 
commission of 1947-8, Dream on a Sunday Afternoon in the Central Alameda, 
offers the old Rivera with romantic overtones. 

Mexico's chief contribution to the war effort proper was along the 

lines of production and supply, furnishing agricultural products, textiles, 
minerals, and various types of manufactured goods. This resulted in a tre- 
mendous increase in industrial activity and, as in other countries during 
this period, a serious inflation also. Although some people were enriched 
through the extensive purchases by the United States in Mexico, the 
majority suffered from high prices and scarcity of goods as wages lagged 
far behind the rise in prices. By the end of the Gamacho administration 
in 1946, business had made remarkable strides with the aid of govern- 
ment subsidies and exemptions of all kinds, while left-wing activities were 
correspondingly weak — in deference to the war effort. The right-wing 
Sinarquists, who were equally anti-Soviet and anti-United States, made 
considerable headway. 

Under the next president, Miguel Aleman, the first civilian president 
since Madero, Mexico continued to follow this course of industrialization. 
Government became linked to business, as it now definitely turned from 
the agrarian revolt to the Industrial Revolution. Mexico was hurrying 
to catch up with other nations and, while the emphasis was primarily on 
development of material resources and encouragement of native industry, 
there were also impressive projects in irrigation, soil conservation, and 
education. One of the most significant educational accomplishments of 
the Aleman administration, in addition to building many schools in 
various areas, was the planning and construction of the giant University 
City on the outskirts of Mexico City. This Ciudad Universitaria, with 
its many modern buildings effectively arranged and designed, is the 
location of mural decorations by Siqueiros, Rivera, O'Gorman, and 
Chavez Morado, some in paint, others in mosaic, but all out of doors. 

The turn toward mechanization and industrialization during this 
period (1946-52) is paralleled in the arts by such works as the Orozco 
machine-art mural at the National School for Teachers in 1947; the 
many murals by Jorge Gonzalez Camarena in banks, office buildings, 
and even a brewery; and the 1952 Siqueiros mural in the Institute 
Politecnico Nacional, Man the Master and Not the Slave of Technology. In 
1945, Siqueiros, who had been interested since the 'thirties in the develop- 
ment of industrial materials for art, persuaded Minister of Education 
Torres Bodet 1 to establish a division of Chemical Research for Plastics 2 
in the National Polytechnical Institute, for the use of both artists and 
industry. Here, under the able leadership of the painter and former 
Siqueiros Workshop member Jose L. Gutierrez, modern materials such 
as vinylite, pyroxilin, and ethyl silicate were adapted for the benefit of 
the art world. 

The growth of business and industry in Mexico brought a new middle 
class, for whom art has inevitably become the symbol of social importance. 

1 70 Obras Recientes de Siqueiros, p. 31. 

2 Taller de Rnsave de Materiales de Pinturas y Plasticos. 


During the 'forties, therefore, private galleries began to appear in 
numbers for the first time as the necessary intermediary between this 
new public and the easel painter and independent print-maker. For 
this body of artists, the government during the Aleman administration 
(1950) organized the Salon de la Plastica Mexicana and its branches, 
where artists could show their works free of charge and sell them without 
the customary commission fee. 

The late and unusually rapid process of industrialization in Mexico 
has also caused the dislocation and social inequities typical of such 
situations. As a result, since the end of the Avila Camacho administration 
tendencies toward social reform are mirrored within the art world as well 
as in the labor movement, whose ranks are constantly enlarged as 
industry grows. The O'Higgins-Mendez mural in Maternity Hospital 
No. 1 of the Social Security Administration in 1946-7, the mural of 
Gonzalez Camarena in the Social Security Building on the Paseo de la 
Reforma in 1950, the Siqueiros mural for the Poly technical Institute in 
1952, and many others are evidences of the reaction to this situation. 
These works reflect the effort of the government to extend to the Mexican 
people the benefits of social security, free medical care, increased educa- 
tional opportunity, and so on — very real and tangible gains. At the same 
time, other works show the persistent feeling that business has acquired 
too much voice in government, that for the general-presidents of the 
previous era have been substituted the corporation lawyers of today. 
Thus left-wing artist groups of various kinds have become active again, 
groups such as the Taller and the recent National Front of Plastic Arts, 
headed by the veteran Goitia. 3 But their contribution, like that of the 
L.E.A.R. of the 'thirties, is primarily political rather than artistic. The 
great achievements of the war and postwar periods are still those of the 
outstanding independents, reacting to the times in their own ways: 
Orozco, Siqueiros, Tamayo, Rivera, and the younger men, who best 
represent Mexican art today. 

Frente Nacional de Artes Plasticas 



1940 In 11149 

After completing his Jiquilpan mural for the outgoing president, Lazaro 
Cardenas, Orozco began to work early in 1941 on the wall decorations 
of the newly built Supreme Court in Mexico City. He was given four 
large areas to paint in its main entrance hall, the so-called Hall of Lost 
Steps. One is behind the spectator as he comes up the stairs, one on each 
side of the large open space, and the fourth on the far wall, where 
columns partly obstruct the view. 

It is this last area, opposite the staircase, that is confronted upon 
entering (fig. 81). The long rectangular space of this main mural is 
dominated by the Mexican tiger (or jaguar), its upper portion gray and 
black, its lower part lavender with black spots. With teeth bared, the 
ferocious animal, wrapped in the red-white-green national flag, leaps to 
the left in a powerful protective movement across the symbols of Mexico's 
underground wealth arranged directly below. 

Scanning these symbols from the lower right, we see first a golden 
skeleton, its head that of a medieval moneylender type, its ribs containing 
the corpse of some fantastic beast that has died in the golden cage. This 
is the symbol of Mexico's Gold. Above it is the figure that denotes Silver, 
an elongated parody of the female body, a soulless, dessicated creature, 
as dead as the gold near which it is placed. On the lower left-hand side is 
Iron, represented by a series of metal fragments. Immediately above this 
is the dignified and impressive Copper, a male figure lying on its face, 
suggesting in a general way the ancient pre-Spanish inhabitants of 
Mexico. In the center, set directly between the two pairs of minerals, is 
a primeval headlike image representing Oil, whose teeth arc metallic 
spouts from which the rich liquid flows in unending streams. 

These five symbols move inward and outward in space, lending their 
poetically abstract forms to as unusual a conception as Orozco has ever 
offered. Yet in spite of the increasingly generalized and symbolic treat- 
ment of form, this mural is more specific in intent than the tiger composi- 
tion at Jiquilpan. Here the painter apparently exhorts the Supreme 
Court to guard the subsoil wealth of Mexico, as they had recently done 
by invoking Article 27 of the Constitution in expropriation of the oil 

On the square wall over the staircase (all the others are rectangular) 


Orozco reminds the judges of Article 123 1 guaranteeing the rights of 
labor (fig. 82). But this is no political speech, no picturesque appeal to 
so-called native values. It is rather a series of phantasms, representations 
in stridently nonnaturalistic terms of the violent — even vicious — struggle 
of mankind to fight its way out of one social dimension into another. 

In the background is a reddish-brown, geometrically abstract, open 
building, through which vague shapes and faces appear like the ghosts of 
those who fought in the struggles of the past. The forms, in lavender and 
gray-green, vary in substantiality from complete dematerialization in the 
the background to the transparent and simian face on the left-hand 
upright of the building shape. This wraithlike symbol holds in its hand 
a solid pickax, which comes forward into the main body of the composi- 
tion. Here the battle takes on a more tangible and climactic form. A file 
of bent-over gray-green and gray-blue figures (the oppressed) moves 
across the center of the panel between two pairs of struggling workers. 
There is one pair of straining figures in the upper right, whose movements 
carry us out of the picture. The other pair is in the immediate foreground. 
One of the latter is painted in lavender-gray, his face hidden in the 
enormous red flag, and the other in lavender-violet, his formless face 
suggesting the Jiquilpan Masses and blending into the equally faceless 
bent-over forms in the middleground — the humanity that continues to 
suffer during the fight for liberty. 

1 Fernandez, Orozco: forma e idea, p. 107. 


orozco. The National Riches, detail 




orozco. The Working-Class Movement. 



orozco. Justice, detail, fresco, right-hand wall, supreme court, mexioo city. 

Series of verticals and horizontals, predominantly red, oppose the 
struggling forms of the workers, which are colored from lavender-green 
to lavender-gray to gray. Formalistically these figures, anticipated to 
some extent at Guadalajara, go even farther along the road of Expression- 
istic distortion, with the aid of Byzantine emaciation and elongation. 

This rear panel is tied to the main one opposite it by the side murals, 
each of which surrounds a doorway in the center of its wall. Gigantic 
figures of Justice and Vengeance lean down at left and right of these 
doors to destroy or attack the invidious forces of dishonesty, treachery, et 
cetera. In the left-hand mural, from one side of the wall a colossal form 
sweeps out of the heavens with an ax in its hands to drive away a group 
of figures who are subverting justice. At the other side of the doorway, 
a red flame emanates from the lower part of the avenging figure, moving 
diagonally downward into a group of bandits who are tying up the people 
and stealing their resources. The thieves are in subdued gray tinted with 
green; the avenging figure is gray tinted with blue. 

The right-hand wall is a companion piece, with a similar figure oxer- 
head attacking from both sides of the doorway (fig. 83). The left portion 
reveals true Justice with a torch thrust menacingly at a group of nude 
usurpers of governmental power (one with a Phrygian liberty cap) who 




orozco. The Demon Tied, fresco. 



are feverishly looking through books for justification of their illegal acts. 
The other end of this wall again shows the diagonal ray of fire, this time 
cutting into a group of masked men, including a terrified travestied 
Justice figure. On a pedestal at the rear, another figure of Justice leans 
back in its chair asleep and unaware of what is being done in its name. 
On both walls, the background elements at right and left include gene- 
ralized shelves, walls, and so on, which bring the murals into conformity 
with the intervening doorways. 

During the following year, 1942, Orozco began to paint the former 
church of the ancient Hospital de Jesus Nazareno, founded by Cortez 
early in the sixteenth century and said to be the first institution of its 
kind in America. Although Orozco worked on this building until 1944, 
he was able to complete only a few sections: the vault and walls of the 
choir, and the vault of the first section of the nave adjoining the choir. 
(Apparently the funds for the job ran out.) 

The subject matter of these few murals is visionary and prophetic in 
character, not as Biblical illustrations but rather as a projection of 
Orozco's feeling concerning our own turbulent period of war and 
destruction (figs. 84, 85, 86). His personal symbols convey a powerful 
awareness of the anguished times in which we live. The most abstract 
form on the choir vault is that of Deity, with evangelists in a more 
figurative style flying about it. In a kind of symbolism and abstraction 


altogether different from that of the God form, he shows a near-by 
angel first tying a demon and then, on the other side, untying him. Two 
figures, male and female, at the base of the choir wall represent human 
sorrow. These are conceived in a simple Expressionistic manner (especi- 
ally the woman), each placed before a geometrically constructed tomb, 
whose mechanical shape suggests the elements of the slightly later Normal 
School mural. 

Examined more closely, this first section is seen to be a kind of Last 
Judgment. The colors are cool; gray, black, and green accents convey the 
feeling of mutability, of death itself. The light-green, abstract symbol of 
God (which seems derived from some Aztec glyph) is basically a rectangle 
with a T-form attached above it. Forceful in its geometrical rigidity, the 
whole element is made up of perspectivized slabs. One writer' 2 claims that 

2 Cleve Gray, 'Orozco's Recent Frescoes,' Art in America, vol. 36, 1948, p. 137. 



* w 


this is a precolonial ideograph very close in form to the actual glyph 
meaning 'the destruction of a city.' Whether or not this is so, the effect 
of the representation is that of a Romanesque Last Judgment in which, 
as here, flames (or rays of light) shoot out from the Deity. This impression 
is heightened by the four anthropomorphic evangelist symbols flying 
about the central God-glyph. 

In keeping with Orozco's development since 1940, there is an advanced 
looseness of brushstroke; his work shows a genuine Expressionistic (and 
visionary) quality in this respect, as in the movement of the flying figures 
and in the flowing, tortured shapes of the two symbols of humanity. These 
latter curvilinear figures are in decided form and color contrast to the 
brutal rectangular tombs behind them. The two are on either side of a 
window at the foot of the choir wall. 

On the side walls of the choir vault, the painter has placed the pair of 
highly suggestive allegories in which an angel tics a demon and, at the 
other side, liberates him. Here Orozco has worked out monstrous shapes 
of remarkable fantasy and strength, shapes completely personal and 
original. The monster's innumerable appendages are restrained for only 
a while and then freed again, all portrayed in the general greenish 
tonality of this choir vault. 

In the adjacent vault, which is part of the four longitudinal nave 
sections, Orozco shifts to a hot color scheme, with reds and oranges added 
to the earlier grays and blacks, the whole effect more curvilinear than 
geometric. These nave vaults are about 40 feet across and about 30 feet 
deep. Had they been completed, they would have offered as impressive 
a group as Orozco ever produced. 

This last vault section presents four apocalyptic beasts in black, tan, 
and brown: three horses and a jaguar (a traditional symbol of Mexico). 
The jaguar is ridden by the Whore of the Apocalypse, clear enough reference 
to what Orozco felt was being done to his country. She is a horribly 
caricatured reddish creature, similar in general effect to the repulsive 
female of the 1934 Palacio de Bellas Artes mural. This section of the 
Jesus murals is a terrifying vision of suffering, excess, and violent emotion 
of all kinds. A powerful arm thrusts a spear through several figures; other 
forms are seen with pieces of swords sticking out of them; mangled and 
decayed shapes abound. The motif of the sword-pierced human being 
occurs many times in Orozco's work, and the great chains seen here 
have also been used by him before to denote captivity. The barbed-wire 
areas suggest oppression and punishment for transgressions against man- 
made restrictions. 

In spite of its incompleteness, the Jesus Hospital project represents 
another high point in Orozco's art and another new approach to the 
problem of human suffering and man's fate. Concerning this approach, 
Orozco is quoted as follows: '. . . having seen the torment of our times, 
comparable to apocalyptic punishment, I reinvented the demon, painting 

him in such form that it [this work] represented the renewal of Baroque 
art, and as the expression of the triumph of the human over itself, over 
the mechanized world of our times. ' :! Even in the fragmentary condition 
in which they were left at the painter's death and in spite of the unfortu- 
nate neglect that is allowing this great work to disappear, the Hospital 
de Jesus murals offer a spectacle of such imaginative and overpowering 
poetic force that they must be ranked among the artist's major achieve- 

His next work, the Xational Allegory, was done in one of the most 
impressive buildings in Mexico City, the National School for Teachers 
(or Normal School). Built in 1947 by Mario Pani, the school includes a 
magnificent long open-air theater, bounded on each side by tiers of open 
balcony corridors and focusing on a stage backed by a six-story curved 
concrete wall, which was given to Orozco to paint. This formidable 
assignment, fifty-nine feet high and seventy-two feet across, made even 
more difficult because it was out of doors, brought Orozco into contact 
with the problem of the open-air mural for the first time. As we have 
already seen, this problem had engaged the attention of Siqueiros for some 
time. It had also been the subject of innumerable experiments in the 
Polytechnical Institute's division of Chemical Research for Plastics, whose 
professor, the painter Jose Gutierrez, and chemist-technician Manuel 
Jimenez Rueda advised Orozco to use ethyl silicate for his outdoor job. 
Gutierrez furnished the actual formula 4 by which the mixture of ethyl 
silicate, alcohol, water, and hydrochloric acid was prepared for use on 
this gigantic wall. The formula was based on Gutierrez's own experience 
with this medium, dating back to 1938. In addition to this technical 
advice, Orozco received help from a team of assisting artists, which 
enabled him to accomplish the huge task by 1948 (exact dates were 
November 1947 to April 1948). 

The parabola-shaped stage wall is anchored to the galleries at the sides 
of the open-air theater by gray and red columns (fig. 87). Horizontal 
thrusts from these galleries are repeated in strong horizontal lines through- 
out the mural. The intensive vertically of the tower looming behind the 
mural wall is repeated in equally distinct up-and-down elements in the 
painting, particularly in the central serpent form with its bent neck. In 
this way, as well as by the use of small metallic inlays on the surface of the 
work, 5 the integration of painting and architecture is brought about in 
a calculated and effective manner. The Baroque doorway at the bottom 
of the mural (from the old university) is brought within the symbolic 
meaning of the wall in general, and is worked into the curvilinear forms 
directly above it. 

3 Justino Fernandez, 'El pintor de nuestro tiempo,' Annies del institute de tn- 
vestigaciones estelicas, no. 16, 1948. 

4 Jose Clemente Orozco, Sexta Exposition, El Colegio Nacional, Mexico, 1948. 

5 Cf. Siqueiros in Chilian, 194 1-2. 






orozgo. National Allegory, ethyl silicate. 


By these various means Orozco used the structural lines of the painting 
first to maintain the relation with the architectural design of the building 
and then to give life to the wall and its various sections. Although this mural 
is usually called 'abstract' in the school-of-Paris sense and does suggest 
certain spatial penetrations by such artists as the 'North-American' Stuart 
Davis (as in the upper right-hand section), the fact remains that this 
is as symbolic a representation as anything Orozco has done so far. He 
knows exactly what he wants to express and says: 

Theme: National Allegory, with large geometric forms, stone and 
metal. In the center: the Eagle and the Serpent, a representation of Life 
and Death, a representation of the Mexican Earth. At the left, a man 
with his head in the clouds moves up a gigantic staircase; at the right a 
hand puts a block into place. . . The forms of the composition are so 
organized as to acknowledge and preserve the parabolic form of the 
wall and to be seen at any distance. 6 

At the right side of the mural (fig. 88) are symbols of the precolonial 
past, especially the blackish ruins at lower right. Above them at right 

6 Orozco: Sexta Exposition. 


center, the brown hand of an Indian conies in from the side, grasping a 
gray block of stone that cuts through a series of lavender, red, gray, and 
blue elements. Above this hand are rectangular architectural forms in 
orange; resembling in a general way the outlines of an ancient pyramid, 
they also suggest the girders of modern construction as they change at 
the bottom into red shapes that move left. 

The center of this great composition shows a vivid green serpent — 
native Mexico — living yet dying, its drooping neck clutched in the beak 
of the eagle emerging from the block forms at the upper right, and its 
lower body grasped in the buff-colored claw of the eagle. This central 
portion ends immediately below in the colonial doorway, the presence 
of which (together with the sword) symbolizes that other historical 
element in the history of Mexico, the Spanish, which combines with the 
Indian to evolve the basic Mexican formula. 

This world, the Indian-Spanish, is attacked by gray-blue, pointed 
mechanical forms rushing in from the left and also by corkscrew-spiral 
gray-blue pipe shapes that represent modern mechanized life. Through 
the entire left-hand area man ascends, one foot on a kind of gray metal- 
form step, the other on the ground, while his head is hidden in the clouds 
above. The lower leg is still enveloped in materialistic steel elements 
from which he rises heavenward, another symbol of man's hopeful 



orozco. National Allegory. 


I 201 

future as he advances out of the material into the spiritual (cf. Hospicio 

Compositionally this work is dominated by a series of verticals (the 
legs, the sword, the endless corkscrew, the serpent form, the up-and- 
down lines of the buildings at the right), against which a number of 
powerful horizontal parabolic movements work in opposition and 
balance. Chief of these are the metallic forms that come in from the left 
and the horizontal lines of the buildings at the right, which lead the eye 
across the entire composition. If we measure diagonally across the mural 
— and we are assured by Orozco that he calculated every line and color 
effect with great care — the lines drawn from corner to opposite corner 
meet at the precise point where the lower curvilinear metallic bar 
touches the body of the serpent. 

The brillant foreshortening of the dynamic elements coming from the 
left is perhaps the most effective of all Orozco's representations of 
mechanized force. The forms move powerfully right and yet are held in 
check by the equally dramatic verticals in the center and at left of center. 
Orozco's adaptation of the post-Cubist technique is as individual as his 
handling of Expressionist methods. It is an imaginative utilization of 
space techniques in which the interpenetration of planes appears in a 
new and personal manner; structural lines, for example, extend beyond 
the boundaries of the color areas they are supposed to define, creating a 
different kind of transparency and deeper space indications. In this way 
the eye is led through and allowed to penetrate areas in a constantly 
moving dynamic fashion quite different from the aesthetic of either the 
Futurist or the machine painters. There is a 'force line' that comes from 
the lower left in a wide sweeping parabola across the top center of the 
wall into the upper right, linking man's ascendancy and man's building 
power. But this is no mere substitute for movement; as it penetrates the 
various in-and-out-moving areas, it is part of the action of the wall. 

We may say further that the mechanized forms — man, inswinging 
metal bars, spiral pipes, and the brown hand at the right — have a genuine 
symbolic quality that is the result of Orozco's pictorial and allegorical 
approach. Indeed it would be difficult to conceive of a mural destined 
for such a building in Mexico in which a 'form for form's sake' approach 
would be acceptable either to the artist or to the public, given the 
environmental factors already established. 7 

Orozco's use of metal pieces, indentations on the surface of the cement, 
and deliberate surface roughenings are part of a new technique that 
enriches mural painting in this period and in which both he and Siqueiros, 
especially the latter, play leading roles. Painting on an inward-curving 
surface has been one of Siqueiros's specialities, but never in the poetically 
abstract manner of Orozco here. Once before Orozco was confronted 

7 Perhaps the only purely formal instance is the Merida decoration for the 
Juarez Housing Project (1949). 


with the problem of painting in a completely modern building, the New 
School in New York. At that time, his style changed markedly and not 
necessarily for the better, in a stiff version of Hambidge's dynamic sym- 
metry. Now, however, after the experience of many years' experimen- 
tation with machine forms on a different level (the Hospicio Cabanas, the 
Dive Bomber, et cetera), he came to this problem with a new point of 
view and a new understanding of what could be done with these elements. 

Machining of form in this National Allegory influences the eagle and the 
serpent that represent Mexico, just as it does the brown hand at the right 
and the Coatlique face (from the Aztec mother goddess) above the 
serpent head, that represent the force of the dead past. On these shapes 
are superimposed the real mechanical factors — the curvilinear beams, the 
corkscrew forms, the various devices that overwhelm and obscure the 
older symbols. It is from these new elements that man rises to his hope of 
the future, but one group is balanced against the other, each keeping the 
other in a dynamic suspension from which better things may or may not 

The overwhelming of the ancient by the modern is indicated also in the 
way in which the older symbols not only are mechanized in form but are 
given a roughness of surface and more distinct visibility by the indentation 
of lines throughout and by the addition of metallic elements to the figures 
themselves. Modern iron and steel fragments are placed about the outline 
of the body of the serpent and on the Coatlique mask in the upper center. 
But if this would give the feeling of an old world succumbing completely 
to the force of the new, the living-dying form of the serpent remains the 
central and dominant part of the composition, resisting the onslaughts 
of the metal pieces and surviving the piling of block on block. The future 
is unknown, but in the eyes of the painter, Mexico always remains. 

In this National School for Teachers Orozco also did some fresco 
murals in the vestibule of the same building. They were painted in 1948 
after the outside wall had been completed. Here he projected a series of 
black-outlined forms in grayish black occasionally touched with blue. 
These are seen on both sides of the vestibule against a dark-red back- 
ground and below a three-dimensional architecture that projects inward 
and deepens the space of this narrow passageway. Two panels here show 
people waiting in line — poor, simple, even gaunt and ragged folk bringing 
their children to school. As they move forward, the mood changes from 
sadness and despair to hope; those in the front of each line have white 
highlights on their faces and the upper parts of their bodies. A symbolic 
abstract and buff-colored triangle of light illuminates them with the 
promise of a better future. 

The last year and a half of Orozco's life was a period of constant 
activity and increased growth, of happy creativity and further public 
acknowledgment. During 1948, while assistants were carrying out his 
designs and ideas in the Normal School outdoor mural, he managed to 


find time for a long rectangular fresco in the National Historical Museum 
at Chapultepec Castle. Here, in an extraordinary composition known as 
Juarez and the Reform, 6 Orozco has reinterpreted the story of Juarez and 
the reforms he promulgated, in a characteristic vibrant and poetic symbol- 
ism (fig. 89). 

What is new here is the way in which the enormous brown head 
emerges diagonally into the picture space against its red-pink background, 
flanked on either side by semi-nude soldiers in gray trousers and red- 
plumed caps. The soldiers at the left, before their batallon supremos 
poderes banner, trample and hack at the recumbent clergy and .it the 
mummified body of the Emperor Maximilian, which stretches across the 
lower part of the panel. This amazing conception of Maximilian (which 
may be compared with the dessicated symbols of Mexico's wealth in the 
Supreme Court murals) rests on a series of clerical, military, and royalist 
figures — including Napoleon III, who comes out of the lower right-hand 
corner. The soldier at the upper right whips at a clerical caricature with 
a torch of rebellion that illuminates his military cap inscribed with the 
significant number 57, symbolizing the Juarez constitution of 1857. The 
priest himself, hands tied behind his back, is a horrible travesty of a human 
being, with clawlike fingers and vulture beak. 

The design of this mural is unusual in that it is based on a broad, 
upsweeping curve, in the midst of which the head of Juarez comes almost 
straight out toward the spectator, as though about to fall into the room, 
and yet holds its place in the picture space admirably. It is dynamic and 
monumentally controlled at the same time; the forward movement is 
balanced by the thrusts up and back. The vivid colors of the Mexican 
flag at the upper left leap out from the picture, as does the bright blue 
of Napoleon III at the lower right. These are also balancing and opposing 
political forces, as are the immensely plastic Juarez and the dessicated 
Maximilian below him. 

Orozco's adaptation to the circumstances of each commission is seen 
again in this mural; the facial characteristics of both the French emperor 
and Maximilian are derived directly from historical documents in the 
museum itself, as are the face of Juarez, the uniforms of the soldiers, and 
the Mexican standards. In the national flag, however, Orozco has 
modified the actual colors, and has altered them into a more decorative 
and spatial agreement with the picture as a whole. (The same is true of 
his handling of the flag on the back wall of the Supreme Court.) 

Toward the end of 1948, the busy Orozco undertook to decorate the 
concert hall of the newly built National Conservatory of Music. He was 
called away before he got very far with that project, and went to Guadala- 
jara to paint the half-dome of the Chamber of Deputies in the Govern- 

8 Professor Fernandez calls it Juarez Reborn in 'Obras recientes de Orozco,' 
Mexico en el Arte, no. 6, Dec. 1948. 

l'i ) I 

ment Palace, which became his last completed work (fig. 90). In the 
building where he had done the magnificent staircase with its figure of 
Hidalgo y Costilla, he returned to the Hidalgo theme, this time to cele- 
brate the latter's decree abolishing slavery, which had been issued in that 
city. To this symbolic representation he added a number of other famous 
Mexican lawgivers in a composite tribute to the various acts of legislation 
that marked important steps in the progress of Mexico. 

The technical problems here were rather serious, since the half-dome 
covering the chamber is directly overhead and is also connected to a flat, 
arched wall space below and at right angles to the spherical section. In 


orozco. Juarez and the Reform, fresco. 



the half-dome proper, Orozco presents an idealistic half-length Hidalgo 
inscribing on a plaque the word libertad. Around him and emerging 
from the lower part of the sphere, there writhe in anguished motion three 
gigantic and Expressionistic yellow-brown nudes — the slaves. The one 
at the left waves a red banner and holds his blue-tinted sword across the 
word on the plaque, while at his side is the grayish-black mass of chains 
and barbed wire that symbolizes Mexico's slavery (cf. Jesus Hospital 
vault figures). The other two forms radiating from the base are tied to a 
similar figure, its back criss-crossed with the scars of whips, swung across 
the open space above the great patriot's head. These three slaves are 
bound together with chains, against which they struggle fiercely. 

The center one of the trio has a head formed of two iron bands at right 
angles to each other, a chain riveted to its top and extending to the two 
figures to which it is attached. This effigy, the climax of many interesting 
studies of slavery that Orozco did during this period, has its manacled 
hands held out to Hidalgo as though demanding liberty. The resemblance 
here to a Siqueiros idea of a slightly earlier period (see fig. 100, the 1947 
Nuestra imagen actual) is very interesting, although the actual form is still 
typically Orozco. The dynamics of this curved area, like that in the 
National School for Teachers, suggests in a general way the same in- 
fluence. The background color of the vault is similar to part of the stair- 
case Orozco had done some years earlier, and features a lavender-purple 

The only way to get a proper view of this half-dome, aside from lying 
back in a chair, is to look at its reflection in the glass-topped speaker's 
table at the front of the room (when the legislature is not in session). 
This affords an adequate idea of the forms and of the dynamic thrusts of 
movement that surround the figure of Hidalgo. The conception of this 
area is different in many ways from that on the staircase, where a fanatic 
has set an earthquake in motion. Here Hidalgo is shown as a dreamy, 
albeit determined, type, around whom the tortured enslaved forms 
swirl, demanding to be set free. In the earlier mural the keynotes are 
violence, hysteria, and slaughter; here the key words are liberty and 

The deeds of other great reformers are shown on the flat wall below 
the dome. These men — Morelos, Juarez, and Carranza — although ac- 
companied in two cases by the soldiers of their respective eras, appear 
in their legalistic and corrective aspects rather than as fighters. Against a 
large square plaque bearing the letters reforma, from left to right are 
Carranza, author of the great 1917 Constitution, Juarez, author of the 
Reform laws, and at the right Morelos, who serves here in his capacity 
of agrarian reformer. 

This work, concluded in August 1949, was Orozco's last completed 
mural. The painter died a few weeks later, leaving unfinished the Hospital 
de Jesus murals and the recently undertaken decorations of the Aleman 




orozco. Hidalgo and the Liberation of Mexico, fresco. 


housing development, known as the Edificio Multifamiliar Presidente 

The period 1940-49 in the life of Orozco marked not only the produc- 
tion of the various murals examined here but also the creation of a 
number of distinguished easel paintings. There is more unevenness of 
quality in this area than in the murals, where Orozco's graphic basis is 
always helpful; in easel painting it tends in some cases to override the 
necessary function of color. 

A picture such as the somber, low-keyed 1943 Landscape in the Mountains 
exemplifies the application of Orozco's Expressionistic and abstract style 
of the 'forties to a problem of landscape. Its particular virtue lies in the 
way the painter has conveyed the violent restlessness and agitation of this 
place without losing a sense of unity. The forms move violently to the 
right in most instances, yet are counteracted by contrary elements that 
provide a balancing force. 

From 1943 to 1948, Orozco was given a special exhibition each year 
by the Colegio Nacional, in all of which his progress as a painter and his 



orozco. After the Battle, oil. Mexico city, coll. dr. a. carrillo gil. 

preparatory work for the various mural projects can be seen clearly. Each 
of these exhibitions seems to have had some basic idea behind it. In 1947, 
for example, Orozco presented the results of a year's work on the theme 
of the Conquest of Mexico, with texts derived from the early Spanish 
chroniclers. This series of canvases, known as Los Teules, 9 are violent and 
tortured representations of specific incidents from the Conquest. For 
instance, in the bloody After the Battle (fig. 91) 10 arrows are shown sticking 
through a horse's head and through a human hand in the lower left, 
while around them in diagonal arrangements the refuse of battle is piled 
in a tightly organized and horrifying composition. Heavy white-on-black 
accents and grays mark this scene and its grayish background, which 
shows all the furious intensity of some of Orozco's best mural work. One 
or two of the forms appear in a kind of grape color, in contrast to the 
morbidity of the total effect. 

9 The Man-gods, as the Indians at first called the Spaniards. 
10 See also Time, 5 Dec. 1955. 



orozco. Indian Pierced by a Lance. 




In another scene, the Paso del Puente, he shows the Spanish horsemen 
plunging into the water. The figures of the men and horses take part in 
a scene of carnage and defeat that is seldom matched in paint. One of the 
most poignant studies of this 1 947 series is the pyroxilin Indian Pierced by 
a Lance, a sensation of the 1950 Biennale in Venice (fig. 92). Here a soft 


amorphous form sinks left, it arms raised in supplication as the sharp 
weapon cuts diagonally through it. Again the white highlights appear, 
again the powerful and expressive draftsmanship that underlies so much 
of Orozco's work, and again the pathos that makes him unique among 
artists of the twentieth century. 

His final Colegio Nacional exhibition in 1948 showed a series of sketches 
and studies for the mural works of 1946-8. One of these, apparently in 
preparation for the Guadalajara Chamber of Deputies, is the Head of a 
Slave (1948). A veiled form is bound to silence and imprisonment in two 
massive iron bands at right angles to each other, restrained physically 
by the enormous key dangling from them and spiritually by the rosary 
wrapped about the head. 

In 1946 Orozco had been awarded the National Prize of Arts and 
Sciences, and the following year he was given a retrospective exhibition 
in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, an enormous show that marked his 
apotheosis as a living artist. When he died in September 1949, it was a 
day of national mourning and international regret. Whatever it may 
signify, he was the first painter to be buried in Mexico's pantheon, the 
Panteon Civil at Dolores, the village of Hidalgo. Although Orozco had 
been far from a public figure during his lifetime, in spite of the many 
honors heaped upon him toward the end, his passing unleashed a torrent 
of sorrow within every segment of the Mexican population, an outpouring 
that had to be experienced to be understood. From his colleagues 
Siqueiros and Rivera (who demanded that he be interred in the pantheon 
and stood as honor guard at his bier), through the black headlines of 
the newspapers, to the ordinary man in the street, all Mexico was moved. 

Without political significance of any kind but with moral significance 
of the highest order, the passing of Orozco underlined the place of the 
artist in Mexico, both as an outstanding element in its intellectual life 
and as the custodian of its conscience. Throughout his life, Orozco had 
reminded Mexico of the blood bath of the Revolution, of the false leaders 
and their betrayal of the people, of the spiritual danger of mechanization, 
of the social menace of unscrupulous self-interest, and finally of the 
simple fact that man can aspire to better things. 

2 K) 

Since 1940 


The career of Siqueiros since 1940 has been a succession of significant 
applications of his theories of neo-Realism, first fully developed in the 
1939 mural at the Electrical Workers Union in Mexico City. Some 
instances are less successful than others; some, such as the murals in 
Chile and those in the old Customs Building in Mexico, have surpassed 
the first example in this vein. Siqueiros has also done a good deal of easel 
painting, but in keeping with his strong belief in the superiority of mural 
over easel painting, he is unwilling to admit the importance of his own 
achievement in the latter medium. Even if it is true, as he claims, that all 
or most of these easel pictures are 'ideas' for murals not yet executed, they 
remain one of his greatest contributions to modern Mexican painting. As 
for the ever-growing number of mural projects since 1940, none perhaps 
is so important as the one in Chile. 

In 1941 Siqueiros went to Chile, where, at the request of the Mexican 
ambassador, Octavio Reyes Spindola, he worked for an entire year on a 
set of murals in the provincial city of Chilian — a job of two hundred and 
fifty-nine square meters in the Escuela Mexico. Some two years before, 
in January 1939, there had been a catastrophic earthquake in the 
southern part of Chile. In Chilian, the birthplace of Bernardo O'Higgins, 
the Chilean liberator, about fifteen hundred people had been killed in 
one of the greatest disasters in South American history. The Escuela 
Mexico, part of the extensive rebuilding program, was formally opened 
on 25 March 1942, as a gift from the people of Mexico to the people of 
Chile. (It was also an important political symbol at a moment of crisis in 
the affairs of the Americas.) The Siqueiros murals are in the school 
library, which is named after Don Pedro Aguirre Cerda, former president 
of the Chilean Republic. The room with the paintings is known to the 
children as 'The Room of the Giants.' 

The library is entered through a doorway in the middle of one of its 
long sides; the murals are seen to right and left on the narrow end walls, 
with a ceiling painting connecting the two. The rectangular shape of the 
room is modified by concave masonite panels mounted on armatures on 
the narrower walls. These concave areas are then connected with the 
flat ceiling by pinched-in corners, to form one continuous surface — a 
kind of curved box within a rectangular box. The mounting of the 


murals on armatures is designed to cut down future earthquake dangers 
to the paintings. Most important, these curved surfaces create a powerful 
optical illusion, a dynamic action that involves and envelopes the spec- 
tator as he walks through the room. 

The one hundred and seventy-five square-meter ceiling together with 
the walls (each forty-two square meters) form an area of two hundred and 
fifty-nine square meters, conceived as a totality for greater movement and 
expressiveness. Each wall is concave with a camber, or curvature, of 
about sixty degrees, which increases the dynamic effect. The murals are 
painted on masonite with pyroxilin paints to give greater textural 
variety: rough, smooth, brilliant, opaque, et cetera, and to take advantage 
of the rough and luminous glazes the medium offers. This powerful 
composition, known as Death to the Invader, with its straining figures, its 
many-sided and superposed forms that increase the effect of spatial 
motion, is considerably different from all other Mexican murals, but it 
is a logical outgrowth of the 1939 cinematographic conception in the 
Electrical Workers Union. 

One wall is devoted to Chile (fig. 93), the other to Mexico (figs. 94, 
95). On the Chilean wall we see that country's struggles for independence 
and progress from the time of the Auracanian Indian Galvarino to the 
modern Recabarren; fallen figures represent the invaders. On the 
Mexican panel opposite is the form of an Aztec Indian, Cuauhtemoc the 
resister, bending backward with terrific energy and shooting his arrows 
at the symbolic fiery Cross overhead. At the feet of Cuauhtemoc lies the 
fallen invader, with an arrow in his chest. These two walls and the ceiling 
joining them are another fervid political allegory, a statement rendered 
in terms that Siqueiros calls 'pictorial eloquence,' part of the public art 
he has been trying to create. 

Here Siqueiros has worked out illusionistic effects allowing for ocular 
adjustments and corrections which the human eye can make and which 
he intends it to make. For example, the Cross, the target of the Aztec in 
the Mexican panel, as it moves upward into the ceiling, is illusionistically 
painted. It is more or less normal in its proportions when seen close up 
and when we are facing the Mexican side, but it has an entirely different 
effect when we turn our backs and walk toward the Chilean wall. Now 
the Cross seems to stretch out endlessly along the surface of the ceiling. 
Similarly, in the Chilean panel a circular flame rises from the heads of 
the two main figures; as we go away from this wall, the flame seems to 
move along the ceiling toward the other side of the room. 

The tremendous projection forward and the liberation of forms (e.g. 
the Aztec, whose back is curved as he shoots his arrows upward) seem to 
exist in a new kind of space created by the painter, a space that results 
from the multiplication of parts and the cinematic superposition of images 
that may be viewed from different angles. In the Chilean panel this is 
seen in the head of Galvarino, through which we may look to the head 


hjeiros. Bilbao and Galvarino, 
tail from Liberation of Chile. 



of his countryman Bilbao. Also, there is a curious doubling of feet in the 
lower right, as the intense and forcefully moving Indian comes forward 
waving his bloody arm stumps. These stumps, like the arms of the Aztec 
on the other wall, are rendered in a fluid form that increases the sense 
of movement. The simultaneous presentation of two feet or two arms 
gives a kind of Futurist dynamism wherever it occurs, as well as an in- 
creased number of possible viewing points. Superposing of forms is done 
through the use of the projector, while the airbrush permits rapid 
painting; the pyroxilin paint gives a wide range of surface variations in 
textural effects. All these things combine to increase the spatial dynamics 
of Siqueiros's technique. 

The relation between the walls and the ceiling, their unified impact 
as a space continuum, is exemplified in the figure of the Aztec warrior, 
whose bow gives the illusion of existing on a flat surface (or at least on a 
vertical surface), but actually half of that bow is on the ceiling above the 
head of the warrior. On the Chilean side this same illusion is effected by 
the spears at the left and the flags at the right. 1 To these elements of 


1 For most of the details in connection with these murals, the author is 
indebted to the two excellent articles by Lincoln Kirstein in the Magazine of 
Art, Dec. 1943 & Jan. 1944. 



siq_ueiros. The Liberation of Mexico. 



siqueiros. Cuauhtemoc, detail 
from Liberation of Mexico. 


214 | 

illusionism we must add the effect of the recessive pyramid on the Mexican 

Once the many preliminary steps have been taken, especially the 
determination of the spatial composition (a process that requires a great 
deal of analysis), 2 the quick-drying pyroxilin paints and the spray gun 
enable the artist to paint as rapidly as he likes without waiting for each 
section to dry. The speed possibilities of this technique were dramatically 
illustrated by the painting of the upper left-hand part of the Mexican 
panel, showing Morelos, Hidalgo, and Zapata led by Adelita, the 
soldadera heroine of the Revolution. This section still lacked the last 
figure on the very morning of the official opening of the school. In half a 
day, while officials and other guests were on their way from Santiago, 
Siqueiros posed his wife, Angelica, as Adelita and completed the job 
before the ceremonies began. 

The most powerful portion of the Chilian murals is the double figure 
on the Chilean side, with its mutilated gigantic Galvarino attached, 
Siamese-twin fashion, to Bilbao, the popular leader of a much later date. 
These paired figures, like the combination at the upper left of this panel 
(Lautaro, the organizer of the Auracanian Indians, and Recabarrcn. the 
famous labor leader), grow out of the same root. They are brought 
together in Siqueiros's dynamic time-space relationship. (In the 1937 
Echo of a Scream and the 1939 Electrical Workers Union mural this device 
was also used effectively.) At the right side of the Chilean panel, the 
liberator O'Higgins holds a double banner, one part the original in- 
dependence flag of Chile, the other its present flag. The two meet above 
the head of the spectator in a movement that takes us through time and 
space. Similarly on the Mexican panel a portrait of Juarez is superposed 
on that of Cardenas. This is a wonderful psychological study as well, and 
a reminder that Siqueiros has other talents in addition to those of creating 
space and dynamism. 

In these murals, more than in many other works, there is a deliberately 
strident quality. This is especially apparent in the Chilean wall, which 
gives a feeling of continuous anguish as the bleeding Galvarino, with his 
tortured and cut face, his angry screaming mouth, and horribly mutilat- 
ed arms, falls forward and with his knees crushes the armor of the re- 
cumbent Spanish conqueror. As Galvarino falls onto this invader (who 
clutches a rosary in his hand), the action shatters an actual piece of 
mirror set into the curved surface of the wall beneath the armor. The 
mirror is broken and covered with paint, and represents the shattering of 
ancient superstitions such as the Indians' fear of the white man's mirror. 

The story told in the Chilian murals is familiar enough to the observer 
of Mexican painting. It is the long struggle of the Indian against the 

2 See the painter's own Como se pinta una mural; also figs. 86 and 87 in the 
Siqueiros monograph of 1951. 


invader and oppressor, against the white man's religion with its social 
connotations, and the final release through nineteenth-century liberalism 
and the revolutions of the twentieth century. Rivera, Orozco, and many 
others have told this tale countless times and in various ways. What is new 
here is the manner in which the narrative is projected, the movement of 
the figures, the motion inherent in the walls themselves (designed by the 
painter) and finally achieved by the deliberate distortions that enable the 
spectator to participate tactually and visually in the artist's experience. 
'In my Chilian murals,' says Siqueiros, 'I have been able to move farther 
along the road of what we can call the objectivization [i.e. giving form] 
of the subjective, the pictorial objectivization of metaphors, mottoes, and 
so forth, for an art of political meaning. Cardenas is the Juarez of his time, 
for example, through the clear and precise superposition of the two people 
and their respective politico-historical themes. The same is true for the 
solution relative to Bilbao and Galvarino.' 3 

Undoubtedly Chilian is a strong pro-Chilean, pro-Mexican statement 
and a powerful reaffirmation of national integrity for both countries. That 
it can be considered a strong anti-United States statement 4 is questionable 
on three grounds. First, there is no objective evidence within the murals 
to indicate this. More important, however, no socially conscious individ- 
ual of Siqueiros's particular convictions would have made that kind 
of statement in the period after 22 June 1941 (the murals were finished 
in March 1942), when the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Germans 
brought, however temporarily, unified activity with the West in all areas, 
cultural and political. Finally, from the point of view of the Mexican 
government, which sponsored this project and which was engaged in 
trying to forge Pan-American unity, especially with Chile (then being 
influenced against the United States by Argentina), such an attitude 
would have been inadmissable. 

In the same Escuela Mexico, Siqueiros's long-time friend and associate 
Xavicr Guerrero also did a scries of somewhat Rivera-like murals: 
Brotherhood, Human Feeling of the People (the latter an enormous pair of 
very reminiscent hands), Dynamic Human Labor (a large Diego-esque 
woman), among others. Siqueiros's presence and influence in Chile is 
reflected in a mural done by three of his Chilean assistants (Erwin 
Wenner, Jose Venturelli, and Alipio Jaramillo) in the Alianza de Inte- 
lectualcs in Santiago. 

At Chilian a stage of Siqueiros's evolution is reached in which his 
style is decisively fixed along personal lines. He does not use relatively 
simple generalities of form or the lineally outlined figures of Rivera or the 
Expressionistic technique of Orozco. His is an individual and romantic 
realism in which paint, although broadly applied, is firm in texture and 

3 711 Obras Recientes, p. 25. 

4 As maintained by Kirstein, op. cit. 



siqueiros. Allegory of Racial Equality 
(now destroyed). 


even tight in feeling. In order to avoid any possible monotony that might 
come from the mechanical means employed in applying it, he uses fre- 
quent scumblings of paint as well as applied textural devices. His palette 
at that point is somewhat limited, however, because of the relatively 
early stage in the development of pyroxilin paint, which was available 
in only one tone each of yellow, red, and blue, plus black and green. 

In 1942 after the Chilian project Siqueiros produced a number of 
Duco portraits of women, and wrote a pamphlet called Arte Civil, in which 
he gave the Chileans a short summary of his technique and philosophy. 
The following year he traveled from Chile to Cuba, stopping on the way 
in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama, giving talks on modern 
Mexican art and trying to mobilize the artists of those countries in the 
war against fascism. In most places he seems to have been helped by the 
authorities. Groups of War Artists were formed here and there who 
played an important role in wartime cultural propaganda. 

Arriving in Cuba at the end of 1943, Siqueiros executed one fixed mural 
and two transportable ones. The first is called Allegory of Racial Equality 
in Cuba and was done for the residence of Sra. Maria Luisa Gomez Mena 
in Havana. A second mural, Lincoln and Marti, was painted for the 


Cuban-American Center of Cultural Relations; and a third, Dawn of 
Democracy, in the Sevilla-Biltmore Hotel. 

The Allegory of Racial Equality (fig. 96, now destroyed) was painted in 
a corridor facing the street, where three small concave walls and a flat 
ceiling offered a shell-like form. Here, in his now typical manner, 
Siqueiros brought together the curved surface of the wall and the flat 
surface of the ceiling through the downward-plunging figure of the 
Equality symbol, which moves from the straight to the curved surface 
with the usual dramatic distortions. The upper part of this violently 
moving figure appears from a distance to be vertical (as in the photo- 
graph), but when seen close on, it moves back into a space over the head 
of the spectator, who is then surrounded by its multiple lower limbs. The 
same effect pertains within the spatial area formed by the plastic Negro 
and white women at either side of the curved wall. These also offer certain 
illusionistic elements, such as the overlapping spherical forms for the 
breasts, which enable the spectator to see them from various points of 

Painted in pyroxilin on masonite with Siqueiros's modern technical 
equipment, the Allegory has a pulsating, almost unendurable force, 
considering the relatively small space in which it was placed. Composi- 
tionally it offers an interesting combination of diagonal effects, the 
triangle formed by the arms of the Equality figure moving into the 
space between the upper parts of the women's bodies, whose knees come 
up from left and right to form the lower part of a clearly defined X shape. 
Aesthetically it is another example of the objectivization of subjective 

Siqueiros's second mural in Havana, the Lincoln and Marti, was also 
done on a curved surface, while the Dawn of Democracy was projected on 
a flat surface. Both are executed in pyroxilin paint. 

In 1944 Siqueiros returned to Mexico. Apparently not yet altogether 
secure politically, he installed himself quietly in the Mexico City home 
of liis mother-in-law, where he worked on a new mural idea. In this 
building at Avenida Sonora No. 9 (which became for a short time the 
Centro dc Arte Realista Moderno) Siqueiros produced his Cuauhtemoc 
against the Myth, a seventy-five meter square painting clone on a concave 
surface joined to a plane surface and part of the ceiling (figs. 97, 98). The 
vertical surfaces consist of three areas: a back wall and two small side 
walls of unequal size, all part of an open staircase that has been amal- 
gamated into the general design of the work, as can be seen in the lower 
portions of the centaur, which pour over onto the side of the stairway. 
(The painted sculptures beneath the stairs are the work of Luis Arenal.) 

The interplay between curved and straight wall surfaces and the 
staircase itself offers Siqueiros an unusual opportunity to place the 
spectator within the moving spaces of the painting as he climbs the steps 
and, going up and along that area, is forced to take different views of the 



siqjjeiros. Cuauhtemoc against the Myth. 



figures in the painting. The multiplication of parts, seen before primarily 
as a means for increasing dynamism of action, now emphasizes also the 
value of allowing the mural to be seen from different aspects. The spec- 
tator may move about, instead of having to maintain a static position with 
regard to the painting; he may 'scan' it, as with a motion-picture camera. 
Here at Sonora No. 9 there is no one place from which the mural can 
or should be seen — as in traditional murals — but rather a wide variety of 
viewing positions: coming toward it from the bottom, on the stairs at 
various points, from the balcony at the top, and from the balcony at the 
other side of the landing above. Here more than in any of the previous 
murals in which this technique was developed (Electrical Workers, 
Chilian, Havana), the feeling of constant and powerful movement is 
conveyed to the spectator. 

The Cuauhtemoc mural symbolizes the heroism of the people. It 
contrasts Montezuma's pious acceptance of the colonial centaur with the 
powerful resistance offered at the right by Cuauhtemoc (cf. Chilian), who 
becomes the great and constant protagonist of Siqueiros's painting from 
now on, his symbol of a resisting Mexico. The centaur concept arises 


from the fact that the horse had been unknown in the Western Hemi- 
sphere. The Aztecs thought the Spaniard on horseback was a kind of 
half-human, half-animal creature. This beast rears terrifyingly at the 
left, the artist having imparted an almost supernatural power to its 
enormous overwhelming form, with the red-tinted and bleeding under- 
belly and the multiple hooves that threaten the Indian at the top of the 
purple steps. The white — and therefore mythical — invader (cf. Quetzal- 
coatl story above) carries a spear-tipped Cross in one of his four arms; 
two of the others hold a rosary, as had the recumbent invader in the 
Chilian mural. His face is generalized and almost invisible; his personality 
is summed up in the menacing hooves that leap out at the Aztec and at 
the spectator, even moving across the lower part of the stairs, and in the 
waving arms with their symbols. 

The Cuauhtemoc at the right comes into the mural in a violent and 
diagonal fashion suggesting the somewhat similar movement of the 
revolutionist at the right of the Electrical Workers Union mural. 
Cuauhtemoc is the avenger, the people's defender, with his many arms 
matching those of the enemy. These arms thrust various weapons at 
the centaur, one of them obsidian-tipped and dangerous-looking, while 
the arm that holds it also carries a beating heart, an extraordinarily 
poetic symbol. 



siq_ueiros. Cuauhtemoc against the Myth, 
detail, pyroxilin on celotex. 



This highly Expressionistic work carries with it a violently emotive and 
imaginative feeling, an obsession treated a number of times before and 
since, but never with this amazing balance of gigantic fury and gentle 
steadfastness. Technically, it grows out of the Chilian and Havana works, 
bringing to bear the already seen multiplications of form, overlapping^, 
different viewing points, sinuously curving and therefore more dynamic 
forms. In the relationship between the vertical rear and side walls and 
the horizontal ceiling we have another point of correspondence with the 
earlier works. Here the upper portions of both the centaur and the 
Cuauhtemoc, with their respective arms and weapons, move from the 
vertical to the horizontal plane as the spectator moves into the staircase 
area itself and finds these portions directly overhead. 

As might have been expected, this mural, with its violation of tradi- 
tional ideas in perspective, paint application, and color, did not meet with 
universal approval, and Siqueiros vigorously defended himself and his 
Centro de Arte Realista Moderno. He condemned all his colleagues who 
had 'not gone beyond the first romantic phase of the mural movement,' 
pointing out that only Orozco in his recent show at the Colegio Nacional 
had begun to use the new modern materials. 

The work may be compared ideologically with Siqueiros's Agony of 
the Colonial Centaur (1947), a painting in pyroxilin on paper and masonite, 5 
presumably done as a sketch for a mural in the Hotel del Prado that was 
never executed. Here a gigantic dead centaur lies with its legs curled up 
and encircling a tiny Aztec warrior in the foreground. Another and more 
directly comparable work is the well-known Centaur of the Conquest (1943, 
Don Marte R. Gomez collection), 6 in pyroxilin on masonite, which was 
made as a sketch for this Cuauhtemoc mural done the following year 
in Avenida Sonora. 

The balance of mighty surging forms against tiny resolute figures is 
seen once more in another mural sketch, the New Resurrection (1947, fig. 
99), designed for the Palacio del Gobierno in Chihuahua (the painter's 
native city) but not carried out. This conception involves a tiny militant 
figure emerging from a red-encircled vision of white clouds, yellow fire, 
and rock — man rising, as it were, from primordial chaos with a lance in 
his hands and fighting against the forces of confusion and darkness. The 
title and the use of the tiny crosses in the yellow center of the painting did 
much to make this picture unpopular with the clergy. 

The middle 'forties mark a further ripening of Siqueiros's talents, as 
shown in the various applications of his new dynamic method of space 
painting and the increasing number of fine portraits, landscapes, and 
general figure compositions. His landscape style may be seen in the won- 
derfully plastic effects of the New Resurrection background, where every 

5 See fig. 177, Siqueiros monograph. 

6 See fig. 122, Siqueiros monograph. 

22 1 

form moves powerfully within the picture space and toward the spectator, 
and in which the effect of hard tangible substances is effectively con- 
veyed. The feeling for rocky landscape is especially strong in these 
paintings, landscapes that convey here and in such works as the 
Burning City (1947) a sense of bitter desolation, an end-of-the-world 
quality, derived from their origin in the lava-covered Pedregal area 
outside Mexico City. 

The figure paintings of this period, closely related to mural ideas in the 
artist's mind, show a greater variety than the landscapes, although not 
necessarily higher quality. They range from single figures to complex 
compositional arrangements, but in every case they retain the charac- 
teristic sculpturesque form that Siqueiros has achieved with his synthetic 
paints. Thus the flowing forms and the ideological content of his 1944 
Dawn of Mexico, with its exultant references to the earlier expropriation 
of foreign oil concessions, are close to many of the mural designs; indeed 
the picture was conceived as a mural. Our Present Image (1947, fig. 100) 
is a climactic version of Siqueiros's constant attempts to project his 
figures out of the picture space at the spectator, while pushing enough of 

PHOTO OIHI.I 1 H \l( ' - \M( IK \ 


siqjjeiros. New Resurrection. 



siquEmos. Our Present Image, pyroxilin 


each figure back so that the balance is maintained in a carefully adjusted 
pulsating equality of movement. This symbol of the world today thrusts 
its hands out in appeal, while the utterly blank and featureless face with 
its roughly textured pyroxilin surface suggests Surrealist ideas (di Chirico, 
Grosz, and so on). But this is not a dreamlike shrinking away from the 
world; it is a violent affirmation of the fact that something must be done 
about the enforced anonymity of the average man and the world he 

In the outstanding collection of Dr. Alvar Carrillo Gil (just as notable 
for its excellent examples of Orozco works in all media), there are a 
number of contemporary Siqueiros easel paintings and sketches, in- 
cluding the New Resurrection landscape. In the realm of single-figure 
pieces, two works in particular exhibit an extraordinary plasticity. One 
of these is entitled Head of Cuauhtemoc (1947, fig. 101), a brown face with 
white contrasting highlights, the body a vivid warm red, with a striking 



siqjjeiros. Head of Cuauhtemoc. 


lavender accent on the shirt; the entire background is in dark brown. 
This powerful physical presence carries with it an intense emotional 
overtone, generalized and yet inescapable. 

The Nude of the same date (fig. 102) is one of a pair of female figures 
in light brown with yellow highlights. She is seated, on a block of stone, 
with her back to the audience, and is pointing to the right. The other 
figure is held down by some restraining organic substance, is blindfolded 
(she is called Faith), and points in the other direction. They are com- 
panion pieces, one facing away from the spectator and pointing inward, 
the other facing toward the spectator and pointing outward. Both of 
these monumentalized and generalized forms, whatever their anecdotal 
purpose, show the powerful three-dimensionality of Siqueiros at its 
highest level, and this without the aid of optical illusions, multiplica- 
tions, and so on. 

Other striking easel paintings of the period, in the Carrillo Gil collec- 
tion, include the Death and Burial of Cain (1947), a memorial to the 
cowardly death of Mussolini, who, in the Mexican proverb, 'died like 

22 I 

a chicken.' He is shown here as a gigantic fowl in yellow-lavender, 
stripped of his feathers, while the people come to witness his death in huge 
crowds, rank on rank. There are also the poetic Allegory of the Fatherland 
(1946); the declamatory but effective Orator of 1948; a series of fine 
landscapes such as Road to Vera Cruz (1947); and the highly imaginative 
Stratospheric Antenna (1949), which is a lavender view of Mexico City, with 
bulbous brown forms above it and long vertical wires stretching into the 
air and supporting what look like panes of glass. 7 

Siqueiros's mural painting continues with the New Democracy (fig. 
103), executed in 1945 for the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, 
on the same floor as the murals by Rivera and Orozco. This event may 
be taken as proof of his final acceptance as a member of the 'big three.' 

7 See the splendid monograph on Siqueiros for illustrations of these. Institute 
Nacional de Bellas Artes, Mexico, 1951. 


siqueiros. Nude. PYROXILIN. 




I 225 


sioueiros. The New Democracy, pyroxilin. 


The main rectangular panel here is 60 square meters in area; each of the 
side panels is 20 meters square. New Democracy was intended by the artist to 
commemorate the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution (20 November) 
and the military victory of the democracies over fascism. Although the 
flat walls of the Palacio were not altogether suitable to Siqueiros's 
newly developed technique, which seemed to demand a curved surface, 
he succeeded even here in achieving not only the desired dynamic 
effect but one or two technical innovations as well. This mural was 
painted in the usual pyroxilin but on celotex covered with cotton cloth 
and with a more solid base than before, owing to the addition of various 
kinds of plant fiber for surface quality. Against these successes must be 
weighed the unfortunate visual circumstances that make it necessary for 
the spectator to view the paintings from across the wide and open space 
of the stairwell, which separates the narrow corridor sides of the hall. 
Even at this uncomfortable distance, the view is blocked by square 
columns directly in front of the walls. 

The center panel of the New Democracy, called Life and Death, portrays 
the conquest of life over death symbolized by the defeat of the Nazi- 
fascists. Its principal figure is the perennially outgoing form that rushes 


on the spectator, here a Liberty-capped, powerful female torso, two of 
its multiple arms still carrying the ball and chains of its slavery, a third 
the torch of liberty. The top of the painting continues on the projecting 
ledge overhead. The sensation of forward movement is so intense that 
the figure seems to be leaning out over the railing of the balcony corridor, 
straining toward us with anguished face, the body literally tearing itself 
from the concrete enclosure at the waist. In stark and dismal contrast to 
this rich tan form with its red bonnet is the dead gray figure projecting 
inward, with anonymous face, blood-stained hands, and Nazi helmet. 
This is the Death whom Liberty, or Life, has conquered, and it is fitted 
in at the right under the forward-moving arms of the female form to help 
carry our eyes back into the picture space and maintain its balance. 

The chief color effects here are the strikingly contrasted red areas and 
the occasional touches of blue. In the lower part of the mural, gray 
tonalities are dominant as representing the darkness of oppression. 
Liberty herself bursts out of a gray-colored stone element which cracks 
and turns toward white and then into a reddish girdle about her waist; 
above this is the tan of the body and the climactic revolutionary red of the 
bonnet. This contrast of color for symbolic and ideological effect, i.e. from 
gray to red, is a common feature of the more recent works of Siqueiros. 

The gray stone mass out of which Liberty tears herself resembles the 
top of a volcano, and in the background at the left, another such natural 
form is seen with a hole in its top, as though prefiguring a second visita- 
tion of this kind at some later date. Balancing the gray form of the dead 
Nazi, this second volcano can perhaps be taken to symbolize the im- 
prisonment of mankind, which, like the volcano, has within it the 
imminent possibilities of explosion or revolution. 

The two vertical side panels of the New Democracy show the Massacre of 
the Civilian Population at the left (fig. 104) and the Torture of the People at the 
right, testimonials to the barbarism of the Nazis toward the noncombatant 
inhabitants of invaded countries. In the first, Siqueiros has arranged a 
Mantegnesque composition with a corpse lying on its back at right angles 
to the front line of the picture. One leg points straight toward the specta- 
tor, the other is pulled back onto the first of a series of mounting steps 
that support the figure. Partly covering it is another corpse, lying face 
down, one leg cut off and the other parallel with the extended leg of the 
first figure. The total effect of these combined bodies is a mass of flowing, 
rounded forms beginning at the top of the steps and moving down to the 
front of the composition, where two leathery soles become visible, one 
pointing down, the other up, in a macabre opposition matched by the 
arrangement of the arms above. 

The companion panel shows a single figure lying face down over a 
high stone block, hands tied together and back crisscrossed by the scars 
of whips. This scene is visualized as an upward-moving composition, 
portrayed slightly from the side to increase the sense of movement. 




siquEmos. Massacre of the Civilian Population from The New Democracy. 



In 1946 Siqueiros began working on a three hundred and sixty square- 
meter space in the old Customs Building of the Federal District, the mural 
to be called Patricians and Patricides. After a limited amount of work had 
been done, the job was suspended because of lack of funds until 1952-3, 
when it seemed once more that it would be carried out, but it has not 
yet been completed. The painting space consists of two walls and the 
ceiling of a wide, low vault over a staircase. As in the Palacio, the painter 
covered celotex with cloth, on which the pyroxilin was to be sprayed. 
Here again he favored curved surfaces, the combination of areas moving 
in different planes — the differences to be overcome by his illusionistic 

The general story Siqueiros is trying to tell is one of evil beings (plutoc- 
racy, tyranny, imperialism, and feudalism) attacked, overcome, and 
thrust into oblivion by revolutionary forces coming up from the opposite 
wall across the orange center of the vault. Swarming across the ceiling, 
the avengers emerge from blue-gray and red-yellow clouds, and plunge 
their daggers into the main forms: the brownish-yellow Imperialism and 
Feudalism, the former with his yellow imperial globe and scepter, the 
latter with the symbolic yellow-flamed candle of clericalism (fig. 105). 
Both look like demons, the first with gray devil's horns and the second 
with satanic gray ears and a face meant to caricature the Spanish 
dictator, Franco. 

For Siqueiros this vault space presents more complex problems of 
visualization than many other works have had, since these murals are 
to be viewed from three different heights, at seven, nine, and fourteen 
meters respectively. He speaks of this work as post-Baroque in style, 
apparently referring to its emotive fury and to the fact that the original 
function of the wall surface is no longer operative but is subordinated to 
the various distortions that have been introduced. 

During 1946 and 1947 Siqueiros completed some seventy easel pictures 
for his 1947 show in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, many of which have been 
referred to above. 8 At the same time he planned an exhibition at the 
Museum of Modern Art in New York, which in the changing political 
circumstances of the postwar period did not materialize. 

In 1949 he organized a team of assistants and students for the planning 
and execution of a gigantic mural in the former Convento Santa Rosa 
at San Miguel de Allende, at that time being used as a United States 
veterans' art school. In this building he worked out a scheme with his 
team of painters and photographers to portray the life of Ignacio Allende, 
a great hero of the Independence movement, who had been born in that 
town. The project, which had begun as a pedagogical experiment, turned 
into a mural job with some twenty Mexican and United States team 
members working on an area about five hundred meters square. When 

70 Obras Recientes. 


PHOTO (.I'll, 1. 1 RM< I Z.WHIKA 


siqueiros. Patricians and Patricides, detail, pyroxilin. 


the director of this school got into financial difficulties, the place was 
closed and the work stopped. 

In 1951 Siqueiros was called back to the Palacio for another commission, 
this time for a pair of panels dealing with the general theme of Cuauhtemoc 
Reborn, one showing him tortured by the Spaniards, the other standing 
beside the colonial centaur he has finally killed. The first panel portrays 
the brave Indian and a companion enduring torture by fire applied to 
their feet. The gold-yellow flames blend with gray-gold on the Spaniards' 
armor and turn to red-gold on the bodies of the Indians themselves. Bil- 
lowing clouds of gray smoke in the background signify the burning Indian 
cities. The watching women have bleeding faces, and a little child is seen 
with hands cut off. The only feeling of movement comes in the waving 
arms of one of these women, whose reddish-gold robe (reflecting the 
fire) stands in fine contrast to the blue worn by another woman. In 
general the color treatment here seems far better than in many of Si- 


queiros's works, but the composition and quality of movement are on an 
entirely different and less effective level. Here, and in the second panel 
showing the reborn Cuauhtemoc who has overcome the centaur, the 
effect is more one of easel painting than of mural. 

In 1951 there also appeared the magnificent monograph on Siqueiros 
published by the National Institute of Fine Arts as a tribute to his 
winning second prize at the Venice Biennale of 1950. In an international 
assemblage of art, where the venerable Henri Matisse was given first 
honors for the work of a lifetime, Siqueiros was awarded the 500,000 lire 
prize donated by the Museum of Sao Paulo in Brazil. 

The year 1952 was one of the most active in the painter's career. Two 
mural projects were completed by autumn, one in a new building of the 
Instituto Politecnico, the other in Hospital No. 1 of the Seguro Social. 
Haifa dozen other projects were begun at the University City that year, 
and the painter also began to reconsider his Treasury Department mural, 
abandoned in 1946, in the old Customs Building. 

The Politecnico mural is called Man the Master and Not the Slave of 
Technology (fig. 106), a long, horizontal, and relatively low rectangle in 
concave form like a section of a cylinder. Here a series of diagonals 
radiates outward from the figure of the man, which is in the exact 
center of the panel; they give an illusion of forward curvature as well as 


siqueiros. Man the Master and Not the Slave of Technology. 





.I'll 1.1 RMO ZAMOI 


siqueiros. Man the Master and Not the Slave of Technology, left view. 


inward bending. The painting itself is done in pyroxilin on an aluminum 
surface placed on a thick plywood frame, the entire arrangement mounted 
on metal bars attached to the columns of an outdoor loggia. 

In the center of the composition is the Worker, nude to the waist and 
wearing blue trousers. He stands on a pedestal like an orator and points 
with one hand to the blood-red sun coming over the horizon (the glorious 
future), while with the other he holds the symbol of the atomic age. The 
left side of the panel is dominated by enormous circular red and gold 
wheels on a diagonally thrusting gray shaft that connects the deep 
center with the lower left of the panel. This side with its symbol of the 
sun represents 'man free'; the right side, with its gigantic foot, leg, and 


arm imprisoned in the machine, the wrist grasped by a powerful hand 
coming from the right, represents 'man the captive of the machine.' Over 
this end the painter has placed the moon as a sign of darkness, with the 
colors predominantly low-keyed (grays, browns, and flesh tones) in 
contrast to the symbolic left, with its vivid red, yellow, and red-yellow 
against a blue background. 

Although not so exciting as many of his earlier works, or as satisfying 
from either a symbolic or an ideological point of view, this panel exemplifies 
the oft-repeated Siqueiros dictum that 'the normal transit of the spectator 
in a given topography determines the pictorial composition within it.' 
In other words, when the spectator moves, he sets in motion this rhythmic 
architectural machine; when he stops, the machine stops, too. The aim 
is to provide a 'normal' view from any vantage point. Thus, from the 
front a head or other similar object may appear oval in shape, but seen 
from the side this painted oval would ordinarily shrink too much. It is 
therefore necessary to amplify the oval to a circle or even to a horizontal 
ellipse so that it will retain a proper shape when seen from the side, as in 
the machine elements at the left of this mural. But in order to leave 
intact the normalcy of the front view, the necessary distortions are made 
to look from the front like shadows, draperies, or parts of other contig- 
uous figures, as appropriate in each case. In this way, the mural makes 
sense from any angle. The figure first appears in its ordinary aspect from 
the front with the added shadows, and so on, seen as such; and then the 
same elements become part of the figure as it narrows in a side view, and 
keep it normal in spite of the change. 

Here, for example, we can see the extremely elliptical shape of the 
wheels and end of the driving shaft in a front view (see fig. 106); but view- 
ed from the left, they become narrower and return to circular unshadowed 
forms (fig. 107). Another good illustration of this may be seen in the long 
rectangular mural of the 1952 Rectoria (Administration Building) in the 
University City (see fig. 124). Heads appear round (with shadows) from 
the front; these shadows become part of the narrowing figures as we 
move to either side, and keep them in normal proportion. 

The mural in Hospital No. 1 of the Social Security Administration, 
begun in 1952 and finished in 1954, is 310 meters square and is called 
Song to Life and Health. 9 It is painted in vinylite on a curving iron structure 
to which first celotex and then canvas have been attached. The curve of 
the wall blends into the curve of the ceiling. 

In the left part of the mural, an unprotected worker falls victim to an 
industrial accident. From this same side and dominating the entire 
composition, a huge Sun Man comes plunging down in the already 
established Siqueiros dynamics in which the figure seems to follow as the 
spectator shifts his position. The artist himself explains a figure of this 

See Time, 13 April 1953. 


type as being held in place while the spectator moves about — in opposi- 
tion to the cinematic technique in which the spectator is fixed in one 
place and the images move about him. Thus the legs of the giant figure, 
which appear to recede so violently, are actually about seven meters in 
front of the Sun Man's head and are painted illusionistically on the 
ceiling overhead, as in Chilian. At the right are towering buildings of 
various countries, dominated by a huge red star, the symbol of proletar- 
ian revolt. In the center a group of women comes forward carrying the 
sheaves of prosperity. 

Although the symbolism and ideology of this mural offer nothing 
unusual, the work is interestingly done in relation to the architecture. 
The rectangular room space is glass-walled on one long side and has a 
straight, blank wall on the other long side. The curved ceiling and short 
far wall, which are connected pictorially by the Hying figure, form the 
only area of painting. On the short entrance wall, instead of another 
mural section, the painter has set up a non-glare mirror which dramati- 
cally reflects the painted surfaces in the room. In this respect, certainly, 
if not in the painting itself, a new facet of Siqueiros's dynamism has been 
brought into view. 

During the same period (1953) the artist completed a square mural 
for the University of Morelia, depicting the excommunication and the 
shooting of Hidalgo. In 1955 he received a commission to do the 'world's 
largest mural' (4500 square feet) 10 for a sports stadium in Warsaw, Poland. 

With the death of Orozco, Siqueiros emerged in the 1950's as the out- 
standing living muralist in Mexico and one of its pre-eminent easel 
painters as well. Some of his most recent works, however, have not 
measured up to the standard of the Electrical Workers mural or of those 
in Chilian. This cannot be attributed to any flagging of Revolutionary 
ardor on his part, for Siqueiros is still the ideological leader of the artistic 
left and as intransigent as ever. But the conflict between these feelings and 
the growing public acceptance of his work is apparent in the rather 
inconclusive and generalized ideology of the Politecnico and University 
City murals — a conflict visible in the work of other leftist artists as well. 
These men, including Sicjueiros, are faced by the paradox of opposing 
the government (and being shot at in a May Day parade) and at the 
same time working for it in an official capacity. 

Whatever the disagreement with Siqueiros's social philosophy, many 
things for which he has fought in mural art are gradually coming to pass. 
Today he speaks of mural painting as having reached its second stage in 
Mexico through modern rather than traditional buildings, a dynamic 
rather than a static surface, and turning to exteriors rather than confining 
murals as before in the interiors of buildings. A goodly share of the credit 
for these changes belongs to Siqueiros. 

Time, 5 Dec. 1955. Cf. New York Times, 1 1 Dec. 1955. 


Since 1940 


The first important commissions to come to Rivera in Mexico since the 
1936 portable panels in the Hotel Reforma appear in 1943: two walls 
in the Institute of Cardiology and a primarily decorative composition 
for Ciro's night club in the Hotel Reforma. 

In the two movable panels of the Institute, Rivera has worked out a 
pleasing and colorful arrangement of historical personages involved in 
the development of medical knowledge, especially of the heart. The left 
panel, as one enters the building, is a reddish work conditioned by the 
flames emerging from the burning of Michael Servetus by the Calvinists 
in 1553 (upper left); these red-gold tonalities affect the rest of the wall. 
Below this scene of burning, at the lower left, the painter shows earlier 
events in the life of this discoverer of pulmonary circulation and martyr 
in the cause of free thought. The rest of the panel consists of portraits of 
famous scientists, whose dates and personalities highlight the history of 
anatomy and the function of the heart as far back as the ancient Greeks. 

The right-hand wall, dated 1944, is dominated by a lavender tonality 
and also shows famous figures in the history of cardiology, with reddish 
faces like those on the opposite wall. Both walls have rectangular grisaille 
panels appended below which contain typical Rivera references to the 
past. Here they deal with the practice of medicine among primitive and 
oriental peoples, and may be compared in general effect to the gray panels 
that supplement the murals in the corridor of the National Palace. 

Both walls in the Institute are decoratively effective and pleasant — and 
very little cluttered, considering the number of figures represented on 
each side. The compositional use of a spiral-stair arrangement, along 
which the figures are placed, helps to keep the effect simple. 

In 1944 Rivera returned to the National Palace to work on a series of 
picturesquely_ impressive panels in the upstairs corridor leading off from 
the head of the staircase he had painted in 1935. Here he arranged a 
succession of scenes from the pre-Hispanic life of Mexico. On the rec- 
tangular wall panels of this corridor, Rivera shows a more attractive and 
luminous color than ever before, with masses of figures projected in a 
somewhat simpler style than that of the earlier stairway murals (fig. 108). 
Color, it would seem, is the chief feature of these works, apart from a 
rather agreeable though quite conventional spatial quality arising from 


a geometric perspectivizing, with mountains in the background closing 
the space. Here, also, Rivera continues the practice of the neutral gray 
predella scenes, as in the Institute of Cardiology, which date back with 
variations to his early murals in the Ministry of Education. 

Coloristically these murals emphasize (in addition to the brown of the 
Indians' bodies) a golden yellow as well as bright reds, blues, and light 
greens; the red is somewhat too insistent, however, and tends to throw 
the panels off key. The new color emphasis is unfortunately carried to 
discordant lengths in the scenes on the left side of the corridor, and a 
peculiar, unbalanced contrast exists between their intensity and the gray 
grisaille areas below. 

On the other hand, the painter has done a tremendous amount of 
historical research for these as for many other works, e.g. Detroit, New 
Workers School, ct cetera. This has enabled him to render a meticulously 
factual (except perhaps for the so-called portrait of Cortez) account of the 
precolonial history of his country, with scenes portraying in great detail 
the manners and customs of those days (fig. 108). Nevertheless it is a 
question to what extent these works may be considered aesthetically 
successful and to what extent they are glorified illustrations. 

The work on the left wall, which occupied Rivera until 1950, has been 
continued since 1951 on the wall opposite the staircase with another 
group of panels; in these he has introduced a new feature that gives color 
to the previously gray predella panels, so that their earlier disturbing 
contrast with the strong upper colors is no longer present. These lower 
areas now have a bland blue-green-gray quality that is in far better 
harmony with the upper sections. 

One of the important Rivera works of the 'forties is the series of mural 
scenes for the dining room of the Hotel Del Prado in Mexico City, entitled 
Dream on a Sunday Afternoon in the Central Alameda (1947-8). Here again he 
presents a history of Mexico from Cortez to the present day, sufficiently 
decorative and charming to please almost anyone. But as is often the 
case with Rivera murals, there was a catch in it. He included in the 
Reform-period panel a phrase from one of the precursors of that era, 
Ignacio Ramirez, saying, 'God does not exist.' There was enough reaction 
against this gesture to force the management to cover the murals, an ac- 
tion we may regret on the ground that they offer a new and unusually 
poetic quality in Rivera's art. 1 

Here he is not decorating merely for the sake of decorating but is rather 
creating a series of moods evoked out of the dream state that is his thesis. 
The people sleeping on benches, the better-dressed folk strolling in the 
Alameda — including the young Rivera in knickerbockers walking hand 

1 In 1956 the mural again was uncovered, when the painter removed the 
offending words. See New York Times, 15 April 1956. 


in hand with a lady calavera and Posada — those awake and those asleep in 
the Reform period, and many other areas bespeak a half-Surrealist, 
half-personal poetry not often seen in this artist's work. 

In the summer of 1949 the National Institute of Fine Arts paid him the 
tribute of a national exhibition in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, which 
continued into 1950; in 1951 they published a luxurious monograph on 
his life's work. The exhibition revealed the great skill of Rivera's Cubist 
pictures before his return to Mexico, the fine quality of his early murals, 
the charm of the easel pictures of the 'thirties, and the rather unfortunate 


rivera. The Temple of the War and Rain Gods, 
detail from Life in Pre-Hispanic Mexico, fresco. 


character of the many commercialized portraits of the 'forties. These 
last-mentioned works, which negate Rivera's undeniable talents as a 
colorist and draftsman, would seem to be indications of his loss of roots 
in the Mexican movement itself. They also show the ease with which 
such talents can be turned to the uses of profitable and academic portrai- 
ture. Certainly the murals of this period, with the exception of the Car- 
diology and sections of the Hotel del Prado dining room, offer evidence 
of serious retrogression in vigor and significance. 

This fact is underlined by the well-publicized murals in the distribution 
chamber of the Lerma Waterworks just outside Mexico City, which were 
finished in 1951. The approach to this building is past a huge stone- 
mosaic sculptured figure of Tlaloc, the rain god, placed flat in the middle 
of a pool. The paintings inside the building arc within the open rectan- 
gular distribution chamber, into which one looks from above. The four 
walls and floor of this well were done, contrary to advice of the Taller de 
Ensaye of the Polytechnical Institute, in a polyesterine paint that soon 
wore off the floor and disappeared into the pipes carrying the water to 
the city; only the wall paintings remain. Technicians at the Institute 
(whom Rivera had consigned to the devil) had prophesied that 'Mexico 
City will soon be drinking Diego's mural.' 

Amoebae and other water organisms were originally painted on the 
floor. On the side walls are two very large caricature-like figures of 'man' 
and 'woman' arising from primeval forms of life. In the corners of these 
walls the painter has laid out a series of small compositions showing 
various kinds of activities that benefit from the bringing of water: garden- 
ing, swimming, and so on. (One of the swimmers is his daughter Ruth, 
a well-known architect). Over the opening to the tunnel is a pair of 
hands, used many times before (e.g. Detroit), and when the water pours 
over them they form what is perhaps the most satisfactory part of the 
entire mural. The space opposite, showing workers, managers, and 
engineers in a straight line, engaged in planning this waterworks, is 
appreciably dull in effect. 

Although the chamber contains a number of good individual details 
and groups, the total result, particularly the lack of color harmony, is 
rather disappointing. The fact that paintings are done on the floor of a 
water chamber has very little meaning if within a few months those 
paintings are gone because of technical inefficiency. 

The next of Diego's murals, The Nightmare of War and the Dream of 
Peace, was finished early in 1952 and was intended to be part of the large- 
scale government exhibition of Mexican art (precolonial, colonial, and 
modern) arranged for the Paris Museum of Modern Art and the Stock- 
holm Museum. When the National Institute of Fine Arts authorities saw 
what he had painted, they felt it impossible for them to send such an 
obvious anti-United States, anti-French, and anti-British statement to 
Europe without compromising the Mexican government. The left 

2:5! i 

immediately raised the cry of 'United States imperialism' — an increasing 
tendency since the end of World War II — claiming that the 'North 
Americans' were interfering once more in Mexican affairs, or at least 
influencing their conduct. 

This transportable mural, painted in polyesterine on canvas and fifty 
square meters in area, contrasts the 'bellicosity' of the capitalist nations 
with the 'peacefulness' of the Communist nations. In the background, 
Western soldiers arranged in a Goya-like file are shooting a group of cruci- 
fied Orientals. An overalled worker in the foreground, at the foot of one 
of these crosses, points left to a benevolent Stalin and Mao effering the 
dove of peace to a trio of caricatured figures representing Marianne, John 
Bull, and Uncle Sam. From the extreme right, where the background 
delineates the exploitation of the Orient, the conditions of the ideal 
society unfold in a series of well-clothed and well-fed workers, intellectuals, 
and soldiers; one group features Sra. Rivera imparting knowledge. 
Rivera in his old age has turned once more to the political beliefs and 
practices of his youth; but however the painting may serve the aims of 
anti-United States propaganda, it does little to enhance its author's 
artistic reputation. 

On 22 November 1952 Rivera formally applied for readmission to the 
Mexican Communist Party, admitting his past 'sins' and condemning 
his own Man at the Crossroads mural (which included the portrait of 
Trotsky) as corresponding to 'the weakest period in the plastic quality 
of my painting." 2 Yet such are the paradoxes of Mexican politics that in 
1952-3 Rivera carried out an enormous decorative commission for the 
University City, another for Hospital No. 1 of the Social Security Ad- 
ministration, as well as a large outdoor mosaic mural on the Teatro de los 

This last work was attacked by the Archbishop of Mexico as contrary 
to the 'sentiments of all true Catholics,' because in its initial stages it 
showed the comedian Cantinflas in his customary ragged costume on 
which was sketched the Virgin of Guadalupe (who, according to legend, 
caused her image to appear on the cloak of the peasant Juan Diego in the 
sixteenth century). In a generous gesture to the harassed theater manage- 
ment, the artist finally omitted the figure of the Virgin from this pan- 
oramic history of the Mexican stage — another in the long series of typical 
Rivera incidents. 

The year 1954 was marked by the death of his wife, the talented Frida 
Kahlo, and by his readmission to the Communist party. In 1955 he 
married again and went to the Soviet Union to be treated for a serious 
illness, leaving his home, his works, and his collection of precolonial art 
objects as a gift to the Mexican people. In 1956, however, he returned 
to Mexico. 

2 Reported in the New York Times of 23 November 1952, p. 30. 




zalce. £apata, section, fresco. 



Mexican Painting Tnday 


Aside from the careers of the three leading muralists during the period 
since 1940 there has been a development of the Mexican school as a 
whole. Basically this development presents a double form in which a new 
generation of Mexicanist mural (and easel) painters evolves side by side 
with a newer group of nonpolitical and even formalist artists. The work 
of the latter, however, though theoretical in conception, never divorces 
itself from its environment. 

Of the first group, one of the most interesting is Alfredo Zalce (b. 1908), 
already mentioned in connection with his membership in the Taller de 
Grafica Popular and his 1945 Estampas de Yucatan. During this period he 
continued his mural paintings with a fresco in Secondary School No. 2 
in Mexico City, 1942; another, in the Museum of Morelia, begun in 1945, 
is in the general tradition of Mexicanist works examined earlier. Since 
that time, the monumentalism observed in his Yucatan lithographs of 
1945 has ripened into pictorial form. The light-toned and magnificently 
painted Headoj a Woman (1948), which is done in the new vinylite medium, 
has the quality of pastel-tinted sculpture. Along the same formal lines 
and quite different in character and impact from his Morelia mural is the 
movable fresco section, Zjapata (1952, fig. 109), a dark, brooding, and 
poetic work of such strength as to place Zalce in a category apart, at least 
in so far as this development indicates. These works are unquestionably 
part of the Mexicanist tradition of the past thirty years, but it is in- 
teresting to find that personal and individual variations are still possible. 

Other noteworthy contributions to this type of mural painting are the 
already mentioned O'Higgins-Mendez works in a Maternity Hospital of 
the Social Security Administration in 1946, the O'Higgins mural in the 
Seattle Longshoremen's Union in 1945, the 1947 Mendez enlarged black- 
and-whites for the UNESCO meeting in Mexico City, and Arenal's 
portable mural for a rural school in Arcelia, state of Guerrero. 

As we saw earlier, these men represent the second generation of 
muralists and generally balance the qualities of Rivera and Orozco in 
their work. A third generation of younger mural painters includes a group 
of Riveristas: e.g. Rina Lazo, Arturo Garcia Bustos, Diego Rosales, and 
Marco Antonio Borregui; a small group of Siqueiros followers: e.g. 
Francisco Pego and Federico Silva; and a larger number of Orozco 

2 11 

disciples: e.g. Armando Lopez Carmona, Guillermo Monroy, and 
Ramon Sanchez Garcia. Finally there are those who represent a fusion 
of all three influences: e.g. Luis Roblcdo, Jorge Best, Fermin Chavez, and 
Arturo Estrada. 

The work of the Rivera followers may be exemplified by the project of 
Rina Lazo, Arturo Garcia Bustos, and Antonio Carrasco for the Com- 
munity Co-operative Society of Atencingo, Puebla, in 1950, seven panels 
representing The Struggle of the Farmers against Feudalism. The Orozco group 
may be typified by the 1950 Guillermo Monroy pyroxilin mural in the 
Belisario Dominguez School of Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas. Mixed in- 
fluences may be seen in the murals by Arturo Estrada in the vestibule 
of the Narciso Mendoza Cinema in Cuautla, Morelia, a vinylite-on-gesso 
job fifty-three meters square, showing A Gesture of Independence (1952). 

In the main, these followers of the three leaders are by no means 
comparable in quality to their sources; they manifest a weakness for 
declamation that can never be accepted as a substitute for pictorial 
ability. This is perhaps truest of the imitators of Siqueiros, whose style 
may lend itself to superficial imitation in terms of perspective devices, 
and so on, but in the last analysis depends on the drive and emotive 
power of the man himself. 

Among the new muralists of the 'forties, Jorge Gonzalez Camarena (b. 
1908) is perhaps the most noteworthy. From the very beginning of his 
career, this painter has been interested in the fusion of formal expression 
and poetic feeling, the two elements varying in respective importance 
depending on the particular stage of his evolution. Although his appren- 
ticeship started under academic teachers who represented the very be- 
ginnings of modern Mexican art, the decisive influence was that of 
Rivera, when the latter, during the brief period of his directorship of the 
Academy, tried to break the old traditions of that institution. 

In 1930 Dr. Atl gave Gonzalez Camarena a studio, where he worked 
at commercial art to make a living and contributed drawings and articles 
to the press at the same time. This studio became a gathering place for 
so many young intellectuals that Gonzalez Camarena, finding himself 
unable to work, left Mexico City. For three years he lived in an old 
ruined monastery at Huexotzingo in the state of Puebla, learning to 
know the Indians and their humble lives and studying precolonial art. 

During this period he evolved a strange geometrical technique whereby 
the canvas space was divided into four squares, and then subdivided 
further into eighths, sixteenths, et cetera. Most of the early works, though 
mannered, show a striving for emotional feeling. Some, such as the 
Peaks and Gorges, are successful and represent the best of this period of 
self-evaluation. By the late 'thirties he had emerged from this geometrical 
style into a rather precise formal type of painting; a subdued but vibrat- 
ing color quality allows the increasingly powerful forms their full scope 
of expression. The legends and beliefs he had encountered in Huexo- 


The 1946 project at the Banco del Ahorro on the busy Calle Venustiano 
Carranza in Mexico City consists of a small movable panel about seven 
feet square called Germination (fig. 111). Here in the upper portion against 
a dark lavender background, a horizontal lavender-green arm stretches 
across the top, squeezing through its fingers large, glycerine-like drops 
into the melange of light-green and gray forms below, and causing them 
to germinate. One of these is a greenish organism bursting out of a gray 
shell, while a desiccated skeleton lies head down among huge vegetable 
forms. From this series of imaginative shapes there emerges a feeling of the 
irresistible growth of organic life from the chaos of nature. 

The following year (1947) Gonzalez Camarena executed three port- 
able square panels for the Banco Mercantil de Mexico: Industry, Banking, 
and Commerce. These begin with a representation of Industry being born, 
a brown foetus fed by reddish blood vessels and enclosed in a gray womb 
surrounded by pinkish matter, which in turn is enveloped by a cogwheel 

alez camarena. Banking 



whose color changes from pink to gray in the change-over from organic 
to metallic material. Outside elements here show industrial pipe forms 
and machine parts in bluish gray. The whole is intended to represent the 
function of Industry in taking primary materials and converting them to 
useful products within its womb. 

Banking, a somewhat generalized glorification of this activity (fig. 112), 
is perhaps the most attractive of the three panels. It consists of a faceless 
monumental figure in gray and brown emerging from brownish-gray and 
greenish rock forms, which presumably refer to the rocklike stability of 
banking's foundations; this is seen against an attractive blue-gray back- 
ground. The third scene portrays the Black Market Strangled by Free 
Commerce, a reference to that widespread evil of the postwar period in 
Mexico. Black Market is a monster with red tongue and dark gray body 
surrounded by beckoning brown hands. Especially effective are the 
dynamically placed brown-gray hands at the bottom. General background 
effects here are bluish pink. 

Gonzalez Camarena's mural decoration in the offices of the Modelo 
Brewery was done in 1948, and is about 35 square meters in area. Within 
the limitations of such an assignment, the painter did well by the beer 
industry (fig. 113). Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to look at this 
mural without seeing the malt and hops under the arm of the powerful 
central male figure and the Rivera-esque figures at the extreme right 
who bring these products in. Vet the two center figures, the male and 
female symbols of creativity, give off a vital force far more exciting than 
the necessarily commercial purpose of the mural. Between their out- 
stretched and Masaccio-like hands, placed one above the other, there 
flows a creative light. These forms emerge from an amorphous and 
interestingly textured mass that is capped by a mask made up of inter- 
laced serpents, representing Tlaloc, the god of rain and lightning, a deity 
useful in furnishing the water and electric power for making the beverage. 

The bodies of the two central figures are especially noteworthy for the 
vibrating effect of the colors used, as is the case also with the earlier 
murals. This is clue in great part to the medium the painter utilizes, an 
oleocera, or combination of linseed-oil paste and wax, with which the 
colors are mixed. They are then applied with the aid of metal spatulas, 
serrated bars, and trowels, all of which give the peculiar vibratory 
quality he is after. 

On the outskirts of the capital, in the little Museum of Cuicuilco, 
named after the ancient pyramid nearby, whose artifacts are shown there, 
Gonzalez Camarena in 1948 did the small portable panel, Eruption of 
Xitlc. This fiery scene shows the eruption of the neighboring volcano of 
Xitle, which some two thousand years ago covered what is claimed to be 
the oldest man-made structure in the Western Hemisphere, the Pyramid 
of Cuicuilco. Here the painter goes into an entirely different style. A 
speckled lavender pyramid and a gold-colored volcano are seen against 



gonzalez camarena. Life and Industry, oleocera. 








a deep rose background, the gold-pink lava flowing at the right with a 
purple cloud of smoke over it. Tt is a new conception and handling of 
color, worked out without the portrayal of human figures, but as in- 
teresting as anything done up to this time. 

The most exciting of Gonzalez Camarena's mural works so far is the 
long rectangle of 50 square meters, 1950, for the entrance lobby in the 
main building of the Social Security Administration of Mexico on the 
Paseo de la Reforma (fig. 114). Using vinylite for the first time in an 
important project, the painter has given an extraordinarily imaginative 
portrayal. A stone Mexican eagle covers almost the entire surface of the 
panel, its right half taking shape beneath the many scaffolds and the 
workmen on them. This is the Mexico of the future, brought into being 
through the untiring efforts of its people, whose progress up the stone 




l'HO! \II ■/. 

face of this gigantic symbol is marked by ladders, catwalks, scaffolds, 
planks, and other building aids. At the very top, right, is the bluish head 
of the serpent symbol held in the gray-lavender beak of the eagle. In the 
right-hand corner, the wing emerges in strong lavender, with the tan 
claws visible in the right center foreground, holding the body of the 

In the upper left center, the second wing, in lavender-white, takes 
shape out of a mass of gray rock suffused with an orange glow of fire that 
emanates from two gigantic horizontal grayish forms covering the lower 
left portion of the mural. These are a skeleton symbol of the Conquest, 
dressed in armor, and an Aztec-warrior skeleton in elaborate headdress, 
lying side by side. The general background of this impressive panel is violet 
for the left-hand side and light blue for the right. 

What distinguishes this unusual interpretation of the growth of Mexico 
is its personal poetic approach. The new patria destroys the earlier 


symbols with rocks tumbling down on the corpses at the left, as the wing 
of the eagle plows through the rocky mass above, causing an earthquake 
to bury the ancient ones in falling stone and molten lava. The abandoned 
scaffolding near the claws symbolizes the earlier phases of the rebuilding 
of Mexico, just as the two halves of the plumb line weight in the extreme 
lower right show the process of building in general. 

Gonzalez Camarena's feeling for textural qualities, seen in the earlier 
vibratory handling of his oleocera medium and its peculiarly stippled 
character, emerges here with particular force in the all-over pattern of 
rocky surfaces. These show the same meticulous clarity as the other forms 
in the painting, and indeed in his art generally — a clarity and a dream- 
like quality found both in the murals and in the numerous easel paint- 
ings. His easel work may be represented by the wonderfully mysterious 
Convento de Huexotzingo (1949, fig. 115), a picture of the secluded spot in 
which the painter spent decisive years during his early life, preparing 
himself for his participation in the contemporary movement. 


gonzalez camarena. Convento de Huexotzinso. OIL. coll. the artist. 


The bulk of Gonzalez Camarena's work, it should be mentioned, has 
been done for commercial buildings and may perhaps mark one phase 
of the change of patronage in modern Mexico, i.e. from a purely govern- 
mental to an increasingly private character. Similar projects include the 
bank frescoes of Roberto Montenegro on the Avenida Venustiano 
Carranza, the factory mural (1952) of Fanny Rabel, various cinema 
murals, and others that characterize this side of the new patronage 
offered the Mexican muralist in recent years. 

Here and there trade unions have offered their walls for mural decora- 
tion, e.g. the 1939 Electrical Workers done by the Siqueiros team and the 
Cinematographers Union by Antonio Ruiz. In the same limited way, 
there is slowly growing a tendency toward murals for private residences, 
exemplified in the effective job done by Jose Garcia Narezo (b. 1922) for 
Sr. Mario Lopez Lena in the latter's house on the Calle de Caracas in 
Mexico City. The striking modern building was designed in 1951 by 
Lorenzo Carrasco and Guillermo Rossell. Progressive architects are 
certainly aware of the possibility of integrating mural and sculptural 
decoration with contemporary architecture, but the reluctance of clients 
to go along with the idea or to spend the extra money makes its wide 
acceptance a rather remote prospect. 

In both his mural and easel paintings the Spanish-born Narezo re- 
presents the still strong current of semi-academic nationalist or Mexicanist 
painting. His 1950 The Shadowy Conch Shell (collection of the artist) 
illustrates the poetic imagination of this young painter and the way in 
which he brings people and landscape together. Parallel in general 
significance, though stronger in expression, is the work of Juan Soriano 
(b. 1920), a self-taught painter of great decorative and formal strength, 
represented by his Jarocha, or Vera Cruz Woman, of 1944 (Museo Nacio- 
nal de Artes Plasticas). 

Fernando Castro Pacheco (b. 1928) has produced rich, Impressionist- 
derived, flowing color and sweepingly dramatic figures based on everyday 
themes, as in the striking Hennequen (fig. 116) of recent date. Here the 
peasant's body is pierced through in symbolic fashion by the sharp leaves 
of the hennequen. 

Jose Chavez Morado (b. 1909), somewhat older than many of these 
young painters, represents again the continuity of what one may call, for 
lack of a better expression, the more established side of Mexicanism. His 
easel paintings may be exemplified by the Dancers (1951), whose verve 
and humorous quality, seen even more vividly in his earlier macabre 
work, are characteristic of one phase of Chavez Morado's expression. The 
other aspect, more distinctly didactic and political, emerges in the murals, 
especially in those for the new University City (1952, see fig. 123) and 
in the recent mosaics done on the Ministry of Communications and 
Public Works in collaboration with Juan O'Gorman and their respective 
'teams.' Chavez Morado has been director of the Plastic Integration 


Workshop of the Institute Nacional de Bellas Artes, working on means 
of bringing together painting, sculpture, and architecture. 

Raul Anguiano (b. 1915), like Chavez Morado a member of the 
L.E.A.R. and the Taller de Grafica Popular, has achieved a great deal 
of deserved reputation in recent years as one of the group of artists and 
writers working at the Maya site of Bonampak. From there he has 
brought back a number of striking pen-and-ink sketches, such as the 
Kayom (fig. 117, 1949), all reflecting the life of the descendants of the 
Maya Indians. Together with the work of his colleagues on the project, 
Anguiano's contribution represents a new high point in the Mexicanist 
movement. Without the slightest trace of the pretty or the folkloristic, 


castro pachego. Henneq 




anguiano. Kayom. ink drawing. 


these men have returned to the Indian a significance and a dignity that 
are justly his. 

Jose L. Gutierrez (b. 1902) has already been discussed in connection 
with his significant experiments in the various synthetic-paint media used 
increasingly by modern Mexican and United States painters, especially 
ethyl silicate, vinylite, and pyroxilin. In addition to this laboratory 
research conducted over a period of almost twenty years, Gutierrez has 
been painting since about 1940, first in an illustrative Mexicanist style 
comparable to that of the original Revolutionary painters, and more 
recently in a bright-colored, sharply contoured, and illusionistic per- 
spectivized technique that reflects his use of the newer materials and 
his growth as a painter. The Scorched Earth, from his 1952 show at the 
government's Salon de la Plastica Mexicana, is a high-keyed pyroxilin 
painting on a curved masonite surface; it not only illustrates the textural 
possibilities of the medium but shows at the same time the painter's 
interest in polyangular effects and their space-creating qualities. 

On one level, a greater concern with technical and formal problems 
manifests itself in the use of synthetics and 'public art' illusionistic 
devices, as in the Siqueiros group, which includes Gutierrez, or in the 
new technique of Gonzalez Camarena. It may emerge on an entirely 


different plane in those men interested primarily in 'pure painting.' The 
latter group, increasingly important in the last generation, represents 
an intensification and extension of the non-Revolutionary art of the late 
'twenties and early 'thirties, the art that was sparked by Tamayo and the 
members of Los Contemporaneos. The current crop of formalist painters 
is not merely a continuation of the earlier group but also an improve- 
ment on it, to the extent that the younger men are far more conscious of 
the real meaning of color in easel painting, a serious deficiency in much 
of the older art, both Revolutionary and formal (except for Tamayo). 

Among the outstanding members of this new group are Ricardo 
Martinez de Hoyos (b. 1918) and Guillermo Meza (b. 1917). Martinez 
de Hoyos offers an unusually sensitive color feeling, dealing in subdued 
grayish-brownish effects and geometric, formal-patterned arrangements 
both for his landscapes and for his figure pieces. There is a clear difference 
in the styles of his landscapes and his more anecdotal and mystical 
figure paintings. Paintings such as the Santa Rosa in Ochre (1949) present 
a distinctly nonillustrative and formalized approach to the problem of 
nature, which in this case is reduced to a series of curved lines to give 
direction and spatial quality. The entire picture is in ochre, except for 
the green lines of grass and the blue-gray background. A slightly later 
work, La Tarde of 1952 (fig. 118), shows against a striking vermilion 
background in the upper half of the picture a steel-gray maguey and 
house in simple but powerful geometrical arrangement, with two small 
figures standing by. 

The figure paintings of Martinez de Hoyos have a different kind of 
feeling, moving over into a mystical area that may be compared with the 
expression of the older Rodriguez Lozano (whose colors, though, are 
far more violent and harsh, however deliberate their intent). In such 
pictures as The Road, with its typical blue-gray background, Martinez de 
Hoyos brings into play more vivid and colorful effects to augment the 
symbolic intent of the work; the men are in brown, the woman in 
various hues. All the figures have their backs to the onlookers as they 
move off into eternity, not sorrowfully but with full human dignity, and 
not particularly Mexicanist either. It is in pictures of this general literary 
quality that Martinez de Hoyos breaks with the nationalist tradition of 
Mexican painting. Even more significant is his consciousness of the 
importance of color as a vital vehicle for the painter's craft, a device that 
must increasingly take its place by the side of the draftsmanship that has 
long dominated Mexican painting. 

Guillermo Meza is another poetic painter and landcape artist who 
until recently was known almost exclusively for his remarkable drafts- 
manship. Within the past few years, this talented draftsman has develop- 
ed a soft palette of yellowish-green tones for his figures, with contrastingly 
streaked tones for background effects in the same general key. The lower 
portion of his compositions is often a yellowish red. The final result in 




martinez de hoyos. Afternoon (La Tarde). oil. 


most cases is a harmonious and skillful blend of colors. Figure pieces 
especially, such as the Ceiva (1949) or the Leopard and Figures (1950, 
gouache, fig. 119), have a poetic quality that is strong and clear without 
the usual sentimentalizing. While both of these pictures and many more 
like them are based on the life of Mexico and its people, there is not the 
slightest hint of the purely illustrative or nationalistic in the traditional 
sense. The Ceiva, apart from the wonderful flow of tree roots and their 
relation to the undulating lines of a young girl's body, presents a study 
of mood as well as a composition making full use of form and color 
relationships. In the Leopard and Figures the major note is the magnificent 
swing of the leopard's body in its S curve across the picture surface; its 
form and color dominate the entire work and put the human elements 
in shadow. 

These sensitive and poetic newer painter-colorists represent an important 
and a more recent development in modern Mexican painting. The older 
men who were responsible for inaugurating the easel movement have 
also continued to paint during this period, as indicated earlier. The 
works of artists such as Rufino Tamayo, Carlos Orozco Romero, Carlos 
Merida, Manuel Rodriguez Lozano, Agustin Lazo, Gabriel Fernandez 


Ledesma, Federico Cantii, Juan O'Gorman, Jesus Guerrero Galvan, 
Frida Kahlo, and Julio Castellanos represent the backlog of older easel 
painting for its own sake. It may or may not be specifically nationalist 
in quality; its chief concern is with painting as such, an end not always 
achieved, primarily because of the lack of color skill in many cases. 

Among these older painters Miguel Covarrubias is a somewhat special 
case. Beginning as a very effective caricaturist during the early 1920's, 
lie turned to painting and lithography for a brief period and from those 
to anthropology and archaeology. His well-known book, Island of Bali 
(1937), was the fruit of these newer interests, and he has since continued 
to paint and to illustrate books of this nature. His most recent paintings 


meza. Leopard and Figures, gouache. 



include the charmingly colored panel decorations in the Museum of 
Popular Arts and the Hotel del Prado in Mexico City and in the Museum 
of Natural History in New York. These works illustrate not only the 
decorative nature of his painting but his great knowledge of the many 
peoples in whom he has interested himself. 

The development of easel painting in Mexico has been slow. The over- 
whelming effect of the mural and graphic movements, the nonexistence 
of a middle-class patron group until recently, are only part of the story. 
Even more consequential is the lack of familiarity with contemporary 
(and older) painting of other countries. Notwithstanding the advent of 
a new middle class and the increase of art galleries to cater to its aesthetic 
needs, patronage is still primarily restricted to nationalistic painting 
rather than to the so-called 'art for art's sake' painters. The latter, in 
addition to these problems, also suffer from the fact that their contact 
with modern painting has been mainly through the medium of magazine 
illustrations of works of art instead of original works. For these various 
reasons, most of these painters have not yet produced an art comparable 
in quality to that of either the muralists or the graphic artists. 

Although dissatisfied with both the political and aesthetic character of 
muralism, many of the formalistic painters, because of their lack of contact 
with original works of art (there is still no museum in Mexico comparable to 
the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan, Louvre, National Gallery, 
et cetera), have not been able to reach the same high level of performance. 
For a long time, therefore, most Mexican easel painting has been a weak 
echo of the murals and graphics or, in terms of intellectual dissatisfaction, 
a local brand of Surrealism or Magic Realism. 

With the significant and notable exceptions of Rufino Tamayo and 
Carlos Merida, modern abstract expression has left Mexican painting 
almost completely untouched. The expository character and strength of 
the Revolutionary tradition, the violent nationalism of the Revolution 
and post-Revolution periods, and the continued attacks of left-wing 
Mexican artists against foreign art have kept both European and United 
States art at a distance. Tamayo's career shows the lack of receptivity to 
'modernism' in Mexico. Only in the United States and in Europe has he 
been able to achieve the recognition he merits. Even today, finally- 
considered as one of the 'big four' because of this foreign acclaim, and 
patronized by various collectors, Tamayo remains an atypical phenom- 
enon in Mexico, like the abstract point of view itself. 

Tamayo's moving to New York in 1938 was an acknowledgment of 
this situation. At the same time, however, he found it necessary to spend 
at least a part of each year in Mexico, not merely from ordinary senti- 
mental motives but because his artistic roots, his sense of color and other 
elements in his work, were there rather than in New York. Three impor- 
tant artistic events mark his sojourn in the United States: first, the effect 
of Picasso's art (cf. the 1939 Museum of Modern Art exhibition) from 


around 1939-40 on; then, the 1943 commission for a mural at Smith 
College — his first abstract mural — and finally the turn since 1946-7 
toward a more violent form of expression. 

The effect of Picasso may be identified in such pictures as the Museum 
of Modern Art's Animals of 1941 or the well-known Singing Bird of 1943 
(fig. 120), both of which move in a new and heroic direction. Various 
parts of the body are carefully isolated from each other and deliberately 
placed in their respective positions, while compositional effects are ex- 
tremely calculated. Yet however universal these symbols of Tamayo's may 


tamayo. Singing Bird. oil. 




now become as a result of this outside influence, the essential qualities, 
especially the color harmonies, are still very much those of Tamayo 
himself. Moreover, this color quality and the forms themselves are still 
close to the Mexican environment from which they are drawn. Thus, 
in the Trembling Woman of 1944 (fig. 121, Carrillo Gil collection) and in 
many others of this decade, he bases his forms on a papier-mache type 
of figure very common in Mexico, especially the Judas figures used at 
Easter, with their imaginatively shaped and colored bodies. The same 
would seem to be true of many of his animal paintings of this period, 
which, while taking on the dynamism of Picasso's compositions, still 
derive in form from the fanciful and semi-grotesque molded paper dogs, 
wolves, and so on, that are part of Mexico's folk art. 

The well-known Trembling Woman is characteristic of the most recent 


tamayo. Trembling Woman. 





development in Tamayo's painting. Strongly foreshortened figures move 
in and out of a deeply perspectivized space, the emphasis being on 
movement as such instead of on the formal relation of the earlier paint- 
ings. Tamayo has been affected in a number of pictures by the fanciful 
imagination and humor of Paul Klee (as in the 1939 The Doctor of the 
Garrillo Gil collection); he injects into these deeply indented spaces a 
kind of macabre fantasy that is also in line with the Mexican tradition. 
At the same time, we cannot overlook the continuous and palpable effect 
of Picasso in these works — the leaping figures, the upturned heads of men 
and animals, the enlarged hands, the oblique references to Guernica 
elements in the older master's work — but always with Tamayo's own 
lambent color effects. 

Between the first and second styles of this period comes the mural done 
in 1943 in the Hillyer Art Library of Smith College. Called Nature and the 
Artist, this 'un-Revolutionary' mural shows first Nature herself with four 
breasts signifying abundance; she is lying back in a position of surrender. 
At the left is Water, a blue female nude with water shooting from her 
hands. Above her is Fire, a red male figure; while behind Nature a 
coffee-colored figure, Earth, holds Nature in her arms. At the right-hand 
side of the mural, a blue male form represents Air. These five symbols are 
tied together by a rainbow arching across the top of the composition and 
representing Color, the basic element in all painting. To the right of these 
allegorical figures is a clothed man before his easel. Near him a lyre and 
compass instruct the painter to look at Nature through poetry and 

At the extreme right, the allegory ends with The Observer and the Work 
of Art, where a figure is completely absorbed in a piece of sculpture 
carved without any consideration of the Nature from which it was 
derived. The work of art must stand by itself and not require narration, 
naturalism of effect, or similar values. In Tamayo's own words: 'To 
emphasize the idea that when judging a work of art one must take it as 
a new creation, independent of the source from which it sprang, the 
Observer stands with his back to the group that symbolizes Nature. n 

This mural, with its somewhat literal symbolism, is a very tightly knit 
and strikingly colored composition. Its diagonals are carefully related, 
and effective tonalities range from red-ochre to darker ochres and 
finally to the coffee brown of earth, plus the striking blue of Air, the 
yellows, the greens, and the others. In comparison with his unfinished 
mural in the National School of Music and the abortive 1930 project in 
the National Museum of Archaeology, the Smith College work re- 
presents a tremendous forward step, pointing the way to Tamayo's 
achievement in the realm of abstract mural painting. 

Whether or not the abstract element represented by Tamayo and 

1 Robert Goldwater, Tamayo, Quadrangle Press, N.Y., 1947, quoted on p. 35. 




tamayo. Birth of Nationality, oil. 


Merida will become more influential in Mexican art remains to be seen. 
Tamayo's 1952-3 mural paintings in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, in the 
same building with murals by the other important masters, mark a new 
phase of the development. The Birth of Nationality (fig. 122) is the first 
of two panels on the second floor of the Palacio. Expository in theme, it 
represents an adaptation of the sketch for the abandoned 1930 mural 
project, and at the same time is entirely typical of Tamayo's most recent 
color and dynamic development. It illustrates what can be accomplished 
in combining narrative (even Revolutionary) content with significant 
form and color. 

The horseman of the Conquest moves sharply right, against one of 
Tamayo's typical rich lemon-yellow backgrounds. The dark-brown body 
and head of the horse (the head moving diagonally upward in a manner 


reminiscent of Picasso) are surmounted by a grayish man-head, but the 
underside and the rear of the horse are done in a characteristic warm 
rose color. The horseman brings with him the culture symbols of the 
white man, such as the impressive detached column at the left, and 
leaps over the ruins of Indian civilization, symbolized by a tan-colored 
dead Indian at the lower right. From the head of this figure a child is 
seen to emerge, half-Indian, half-European. At the upper right two 
rose-colored suns meet to symbolize the conjunction of the Old World 
and the New. These elements, together with the dynamically moving 
horse and rider, exist between the lemon-yellow upper background and 
the glowing lavender and blue lower portion of the mural. 

The second panel, on the opposite side of the great hall, was finished 
in 1953 and is known as Mexico Today. It consists of a fairly literal, 
although still typical of Tamayo, modernist presentation of a number of 
symbols expressing what has become an increasingly popular theme for 
Mexican muralists. 

These works have met little favor from the Revolutionary artists 
because of their nonrepresentational qualities and even more because of 
the 'decadent' implications of all such painting. Actually, both murals, 
particularly the first one, are a significant step in the evolution of modern 
Mexican art. Within the compass of the contemporary world idiom, they 
retain not only the narrative content of Mexican history but also the 
flavor and color of that country. 

The little dancing abstracts of Merida, done in silicon on square 
concrete plaques on the facade of the Benito Juarez Housing Project, and 
his staircase mural in the same building ( 1949) represent another attempt 
to fit modern design to the needs of Mexican mural decoration. Although 
not at all so specific in theme as Tamayo's subjects, these forms have 
an Indian qualitv of their own which, from the point of view of pure 
design, relates admirably to the broken forms of the building's window 

Other artists in Mexico are becoming aware of the need, if not for 
abstract art itself, at least for a higher form of pictorial organization and 
color harmonics to replace the rather naive realism characteristic of 
many of their colleagues, the weak echoes of Rivera and Orozco. The 
arrival in Mexico of emigre artists from Europe has also contributed a 
leavening element, to the degree that they represent a type of thinking 
which, though not as strong as the original Picasso-Braque-Leger- 
Matisse sources, gives the nationalist artist something new to consider. 

The left wing in Mexico, still a powerful factor in the country's art, 
however non-left the government, feels there are other solutions to the 
problem of contemporary Mexican painting. That there is a problem is 
attested by Siqueiros's criticism of the Taller, which, he claimed, had not 
found its roots in the Mexican people but was depending on 'snob' trade, 
particularly that of foreigners. The Taller, in turn, accused him of not 


living up to the ideological premises of his own art. Generally, Siqueiros 
feels that the future of Mexican art lies in the outdoor mural, presented 
to as large an audience as possible and in as permanent a medium as can 
be achieved. For this end a dynamic social realism seems to him the most 
suitable form of expression, and we can agree that for Siqueiros it is the 
best and most successful vehicle. On the other hand, it may not be the 
best for those unable to reach his emotive heights and socially critical 
level. Unless there are a good many painters prepared to follow Siqueiros 
— and there is little indication so far of a school — the answer would seem 
to lie elsewhere. 

The 1952-5 work on the University City by Siqueiros, Rivera, O'Gor- 
man, and Chavez Morado may be taken to represent for the most part 
the 'popular art' conception of Siqueiros. 2 One of the most elaborate and 
expensive academic projects in the world, the University City is an im- 
pressive sight, with scores of fine functional buildings and the visible 
results of the work of artists engaged to decorate many of the facades. 

Rivera's colored stone inlay design on the outside of the 110,000-seat 
stadium is an allegory on Learning. One panel shows the Engineer, 
Worker, and Architect offering the University City to the Mexican 
people, whose sacrifices have made possible the great achievements of 
today. The other panel shows the teaching staff of the University wel- 
coming the students to the stadium for development of their strength and 
health through sports. These and similar themes are carried out in vary- 
ing heights of relief, high in the center and diminishing at the sides. 

O'Gorman, working on the outside of the Library (which he helped 
to design), has contributed two decorative schemes: a stylized flat relief 
of Aztec hieroglyphics of Water, Earth, Fire, and Sun, worked out on a 
wall in front of the enormous base on which the building is set; and four 
tremendous stone mosaics on the main structure. The latter symbolize 
the pre-Hispanic world, the colonial epoch, and the contemporaneous 
culture resulting from the mixture of those two strains. They are spread 
out in profuse historical and anthropological detail that attests to the 
thorough preparation (six years) and great grasp of the material by the 

Chavez Morado, working on the Science Building, has completed 
several traditional Mexicanist murals in one part of this structure and a 
more striking Italian mosaic on an exterior panel below the main part 
of the building (fig. 123). Here he has brought together a series of con- 
ventional allegorical figures that represent the different phases of the 
world's culture, in a composition entitled Return of Oiietzalcoatl. Seated on 
the serpent raft of this ancient god, the figures are carried to the right and 
into modern times, as it were. They include from left to right: Egypt (gold 
color), Middle Ages (green), Quetzalcoatl himself (red), Assyria (brown), 

2 See Time, 23 Feb. 1953, for illustrations of University City murals. 


Greco-Roman civilization (brown figures with white robes), Orient 
(light green), and Moslem (purple). Against a background showing the 
Pyramid of the Sun, they symbolize the permanence of culture. At the 
left are the broken dark-blue weapons of war and at the right is the 
golden fire of inspiration and hope. The mosaic is placed above a flat 
pool so that the composition looks as though it were floating on the water. 
Siqueiros's main contribution to the University City centers about the 
Administration Building (Rectoria), where four distinct areas had been 
allocated for his paintings. These consist of a cubical mass, or vierendel, 
that projects from the east side at a height of about twenty meters from 
the ground, three sides of which allow for two hundred and fifty meters 
of painting; two horizontal walls (south and north) comprising three 
hundred and twenty and one hundred and thirty meters of space respect- 
ively; and a huge vertical west wall six hundred meters in area (this last 
never carried out). 



chavez morado. Return of Quetzalcoatl. 


In addition to the effect given by synthetic paints and industrial chem- 
ical oxidizing agents, the finish of these murals is a combination of 
ceramics, mosaic, and various metallic adjuncts. The artist speaks of this 
as 'sculptural painting,' meaning not the usual idea of pictorial sculpture 
or colored bas-reliefs but the use of different superposed planes that may 
project in some instances as much as 60 centimeters. These (plus whatever 
actual sculptural forms may be added) have as their primary purpose an 
optical pictorial and textural effect. Since the project was so immense, 
Sicpieiros was obliged to parcel out the work to two separate teams (the 
same is true of the Rivera, O'Gorman, and Chavez Morado under- 
takings), each with its own artist-leader. 

The general theme of these murals is The University at the Service of the 
Nation. On the north wall, the first that one sees upon coming down the 
highway from Mexico City, is the narrow panel showing a huge symbolic 
hand in the act of creating a pictorial image, signifying The Man Who 
Molds the Nation Reclaims the National and Finally the Universal Culture. For 


siquEmos. The Sage, Sociologist and Artist . . . 



the projecting vierendel, the painter has envisaged the eagle and the 
condor, symbolizing the union between Mexico, Central, and South 
America. The second horizontal wall (on the south), visible from the 
out-of-town approach to the University City, shows how The Sage, the 
Sociologist, and the Artist Bring to the Nation the Fruit of Their Studies for Their 
Scientific, Technical, Agricultural, Industrial, and Cultural Application (fig. 124), 
resulting in a rather literal sequence of outstretched arms. The last wall, 
a vast vertical space fronting on the highway and the first to be seen on 
entering the University grounds, would have represented the spark and 
light of culture. 

The difficulties of the entire University City mural project, it would 
seem, arose not only from the size and outdoor nature of the assignments 
(less a problem to Siqueiros than to the others) but also from the fact that 
the various artists did not express themselves as freely here as one would 
have expected from their previous work. The paradox of working for 
a government with whom the artist has political differences apparently 
inhibits comfortable expression. This would be true even if no holds were 
barred. Indeed they all, curiously, settled on literary and 'harmless' 
themes for their respective works. :! Unfortunately, the strength of any 
of these men has been in a critical attitude, however expressed: Rivera's 
eloquent references to the past, Chavez Morado's macabre humor, 
O'Gorman's mood-filled and incisive attacks on fascism, Siqueiros's 
whirlwind fury against any invader and any transgressor. 

In the last year of the Aleman administration (1952) and during the 
early years of the presidency of Adolfo Ruiz Cortines, when these works 
were being carried out, there were still enough issues about which an 
artist could be Revolutionary, apart from attacks on 'imperialism' and 
exhortations for 'peace.' The government Party of Revolutionary Institu- 
tions (P.R.I.) , Mexico's official and now institutionalized Revolutionary 
party, had built such wonders as the University City and other projects 
of equal grandiosity, but many things still remained to be done for the 
people. Of these there is very little said in the present murals, which are 
in turn decorative, pompous, intellectualized, or just declamatory. The 
lions had been tamed — given such an occasion as the new University, 
there was perhaps little choice, but the removal of their teeth did not leave 
these men at their best. 

This cannot be taken to mean, however, that the Revolutionary 
tradition is dead in Mexican art; it does indicate that the great strength 
of its masters so far has been in the expression of profound social con- 
victions rather than in the realm of officially correct allegories. At the 
same time, it brings forward the point thatt his art has in recent years 

3 Siqueiros later added to his symbolic hand image the four crucial dates in 
Mexican history — 1520, 1810, 1857, and 1910 — and ended this list with a 
'19 — ' in pointedly red paint. This defiant gesture, however, does not affect the 
basic character of the work. 


tended to fall into the trap of pictorial and political cliches. The future 
health of Revolutionary art, it appears, will depend on the addition of 
design and color elements that can come only from enlarged acquaintance 
with the art of other countries and other times. It is little use to point with 
great pride, as one leading Mexican painter has done, 4 to the glorious 
tradition of social painting represented by Goya if contemporaries do not 
learn from him or others like him, past and present, in terms of technique. 

There are still unnumbered ways in which the ideals of the Mexican 
Revolution, the ideals of a better life for the majority, can be expressed 
by artists. These need not be in any of the already established and 
canonized forms, however good those have been. Nor need they necess- 
arily be carried out with the aid of the modern tradition, although this is 
not so farfetched. Whichever path is followed, instead of bringing culture 
down to the level of the people it is much more important to raise people 
to the level of culture. In the final analysis, this will not be accomplished 
with the kind of purely illustrative expression that has been increasingly 
purveyed by so many Mexicans. A country capable of producing the 
monumental abstract art of precolonial times, the decorative folk art, 
and the powerful Revolutionary painting of our own times can surely 
appreciate a new development, organically constructed in the tradition 
of either the old or the modern masters, or both. 

Toward this end a way must be found to bring the younger artists of 
Mexico into contact with various artistic traditions. Reading about them 
in books and magazines is far from satisfactory. Originals must be provid- 
ed by one means or another; a museum of art that goes beyond the purely 
local product would be a valuable addition to the cultural potential. 
Today in Mexico this need looms larger than ever. Most artists recognize 
that something must be done. With the death of Orozco and the increas- 
ing age of Rivera, a great period is drawing to a close. Siqueiros now 
stands as the leading Revolutionary painter, working in a highly personal- 
ized, even romantic vein difficult to emulate; Tamayo remains the 
leader of the abstract group. These men represent in their respective ways 
the best that Mexico has to offer. What they have to say can be preserved 
and in the future developed by the younger men if they have the initiative 
and are given the tools and leadership that is necessary. 

With Mexico's further emergence from the phase of agrarian revolt into 
one of industrial evolution, new needs will be encountered, new problems 
will arise to be solved. One can believe and hope that the leading role of 
the artist in this society, a role established from the beginning, will con- 
tinue into the new epoch, and that Mexican painting will carry on its 
activity as tribune of the people and conscience of their Revolution. 

4 Jesus Guerrero Galvan, - E1 nuevo movimiento en la pintura Mexicana,' 
El Popular, Mexico, 3 August 1952. 



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Rivas, Guillermo, 'Dr. Atl: a most unusual personality,' Mexican Life, Dec. 1933. 


Rivas, Guillermo, 'Federico Cantu,' Mexican Life, Sept. 1937. 

Rivas, Guillermo, 'Jorge Gonzalez Camarena,' Mexican Life, Feb. 1940. 

Rivas, Guillermo, 'Jorge Gonzalez Camarena,' Mexican Life, Dec. 1941. 

Rivas, Guillermo, 'Julio Castellanos,' Mexican Life, Sept. 1936. 

Rivas, Guillermo, 'Manuel Rodriguez Lozano,' Mexican Life, Nov. 1949. 

Rivas, Guillermo, 'More walls to paint,' Mexican Life, Dec. 1930. 

Rivas, Guillermo, 'Paul O'Higgins,' Mexican Life, Feb. 1937. 


'Diego Rivera paints a novel theme for San Francisco art school,' Art Digest, New 

York, vol. 5, no. 20, 1 Sept. 1931. 
'Dynamic Detroit,' Creative Art, New York, vol. 12, no. 4, Apr. 1933. 
Rivera, Diego, 'Frida Kahlo y el arte mexicano,' Boletin Seminario Cultura Mexicana, 

tomo I, no. 2, Oct. 1943. 
Rivera, Diego, 'Losjudas,' Espacios, Mexico, no. 3, Spring 1949. 
Rivera, Diego, Raices politicas y motivos personales de la controversia Siqueiros-Rivera, Im- 

prenta Mundial, Mexico, 1935. 
Rivera, Diego. Acuarelas, 1935-1945. Coleccion Frida Kahlo. The Studio Publications, 

New York. 1948. 
Rivera, Diego, 'The revolution in painting,' Creative Art, New York, vol. 4, no. 1, Jan. 

1929. t --'"' 

Rivera, Diego & Wolfe, Bertram, Portrait of America, Covici Friede, N. Y., 1934. 
Rivera, Diego & Wolfe, Bertram, Portrait of Mexico, Covici Friede, N. Y., 1937. 
'Rivera Murals: New Workers School,' Architectural Forum, N.Y., vol.60, no. l,Jan. 1934. 
'The new Rivera murals in San Francisco,' Studio, London, vol. 103, no. 469, Apr. 1932. 

Rodriguez Lozano, Manuel. Rodriguez Lozano, Universidad Nacional, Mexico, 1942. 

Rogo, Elsa, 'David Alfaro Siqueiros,' Parnassus, New York, vol. 6, no. 4, Apr. 1934. 

Roh, Franz, Realismo Mdgico: post expressionismo, Revista de Occidente, Madrid, 1927. 

Salazar, Rosendo, Mexico en pensamiento y en action, Avante, Mexico, 1926. 

San Francisco, Golden Gate international exposition, 1939-1940, Department of Fine 
Arts. Mexico (Contemporary art: official catalogue.) San Francisco, 1940. 

San Francisco Museum of Art, Diego Rivera: drawings and watercolors, San Francisco, 1940. 

Schmeckebier, Laurence E., Modern Mexican Art, University of Minnesota Press, Minne- 
apolis, 1939. 

Schmeckebier, Laurence E., 'Orozco's graphic art,' Print collector's quarterly. New York, 
vol. 21, no. 2, Apr. 1934. 

Schmeckebier, Laurence, 'The Frescoes of Orozco,' Mexican Life, March 1933. 


Smith, Robert & Wilder, Elizabeth, A Guide to the Art of Latin America, Hispanic Foun- 
dation. The Library of Congress, Washington, D. G, 1948. 

Strode, Hudson, Timeless Mexico, Harcourt Brace and Co., N.Y., 1944. 

Tablada, Jose Juan, 'Jose Clemente Orozco, the Mexican Goya,' International Studio, 
N. Y., vol. 78, no. 322, March 1924. 

Tablada, Jose Juan, 'Mexican Painting of Today,' International Studio, N. Y., vol. 76, 
no. 308, Jan. 1923. 

Tablada, Jose Juan, 'The arts in modern Mexico,' Parnassus, N. Y., vol. 1, no. Ill, 
March 1929. 

Tablada, Jose Juan, 'Un pintor de la mujer: Jose Clemente Orozco,' El Mundo llustrado, 
9 Nov. 1913. 

Taller de Grafica Popular. Album TGP Mexico. Prologue by Leopoldo Mendez, introd. 
by Hannes Meyer, La Estampa Mexicana, Mexico, 1949. 

Taller de Grafica Popular, El Libro Negro del Terror Nazi en Europa, El Libro Libre, 
Mexico, 1943. 

Taller de Grafica Popular. Engravings of the Mexican Revolution, La Estampa Mexicana, 
Mexico, 1947. 

Tamayo, Rufino. 'Unas palabras de Rufino Tamayo, Espacios, no. 3, Spring 1949. 

Tamayo, 20 anos de su labor pictorica, Exposicion del Instituto Nacional de Artes Plasticas, 
Mexico, 1948. 


Tannenbaum, Frank. The Struggle for Peace and Bread, A. A. Knopf, N. Y., 1950. 
Tannenbaum, Frank, Peace by Revolution, Columbia University Press, N. Y., 1933. 
Toor, Frances, Treasury of Mexican Folkways. Illustrated by Carlos Merida. Crown 

Publishers, New York, 1947. 
Torriente, Lolo de la, 'Conversaciones con D. A. Siqueiros sobre la pintura mural 

mexicana,' Cuadernos Americanos, afio 6, vol. 36, Nov.-Dec. 1947. 
Toscana, Salvador, Federico Cantii, obra realizada de 1922-1948, Ediciones Asbaje, 

Mexico, 1948. 
Val/es y montanas de Mexico. 80 dibujos del Dr. Atl. obras de 1904-1948. Exposicion del 

Museo Nacional de Artes Plasticas, Mar.-Apr. 1948. Secretaria de Educacion 

Piiblica, Mexico, 1948. 
Velasquez Chavez, A., Contemporary Mexican Artists, Covici Friede, New York, 1937. 
Velasquez Chavez, A., 'David Alfaro Siqueiros, la tercera epoca,' Ars, Mexico, vol. 1, 

no. 4. 1942. 
Velasquez Chavez, A., 'El sentido cultural de la obra de Diego Rivera,' Universidad, 

Mexico, Oct. 1937. 
Yillaurrutia, Xavier, 'Historia de Diego Rivera,' Forma, Mexico, vol. 1, no. 5, 1927. 
Yillaurrutia, Xavier, 'Maria Izquierdo,' Mexican Folkways, vol. 7, no. 3, July-Sept. 1932. 
Yillaurrutia, Xavier, 'Rufino Tamayo,' Mexico en el Arte, Aug. 1948. 
Yillaurrutia, Xavier, La pintura mexicana moderna, Gonzalez Porto, Barcelona, 1936. 
Westheim, Paul, 'David Alfaro Siqueiros, analisis de la forma,' Espacios, no. 4, Jan. 1950. 
Wolfe, Bertram D., Diego Rivera, Pan-American Union, Washington, D. C, 1947. 
Wolfe, Bertram D., Diego Rivera, his life and times, A. A. Knopf, N. Y., 1939. 
Woodman, Santiago, 'The murals of Juan O'Gorman,' Mexican Life, Feb. 1941. 
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Jean Chariot. 
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Jan. 1936. 



Abelardo Rodriguez mar- 
ket murals, 136, 183-4 

Academy of Fine Arts of 
San Carlos, 9, 12, 13, 
16, 22, 34, 43, 52, 79, 
128, 132, 175, 184 

Adelita, 215 

Aguirre, Ignacio, 137, 143 

Aguirre Cerda, Don Ped- 
ro, 211 

Ahuizote, El, 43 

Aleman, Miguel, 190,266 

Aleman Housing Project 
mural {see Orczco) 

Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose 
David, vii, viii, 58, 59, 
60, 120, 130, 132, 136, 
137, 145, 185, 191, 
210. 262-3, 266, 267; 
development to 1924, 
in Europe, 23-4, 27, 
117; in Guadalajara, 
20, 32, 115; in United 
States, 58, 60, 117-19, 
143; during Calles 
period (1924-34), 59, 
1 15-19; in Argentina, 
119, 229; during Car- 
denas period (1934— 
40), 167- 74; since 1940 
assistants and associates 
of, 53, 115, 118, 170. 
comparison with Oroz- 
co, 42, 51, 115, 216, 
comparison with Rivera, 
41, 51. 86, 115. 119. 
easel paintings of, 221-5, 

illustrations, 54, 1 16, 168, 
171-3, 213-14, 217, 
219-20, 222-6, 228, 
230-32, 265 
influence of. 23-4, 25, 
28, 34, 51, 143, 169, 
241, 253 

Alfaro Siqueiros (continued) 
influences on, 9, 13, 19, 

51-2, 117 
murals in 

Argentina. 119, 167, 

Chile, 162, 189, 211- 

17, 219, 220, 221, 

Customs Building, 

211. 229 
Electrical Workers 

Union Building, 
145, 170-74, 211, 

212, 215, 219, 220, 
234, 251 

Havana, Cuba, 217- 

18, 221 

Hospital no. 1, Social 
Security Adminis- 
tration, 231, 233-4 

Los Angeles, 1 17-19, 

National Preparatory 
School (Prepara- 
toria), 28, 30-31 

Palacio de Bellas Ar- 
tes, 189, 225-7, 230 

Polytechnical Insti- 
tute, 190, 191, 231 
-3, 234 

San Miguel de Al- 
lende, 229-30 

Sonora no. 9, Mexico 
City, 218-21 

University City, 190, 

Warsaw, Poland, 234 
neo-Realism, 1 70-74, 

211, 263 
Syndicate activities of, 

28-30, 52-3 
Allende (Ignacio), 79 
Alva de la Canal, Ramon, 

murals in Preparatoria. 

Alva Guadarrama, Ra- 
mon, 61, 136 

American Artists Congress, 

136-7, 169 
Amero, Emilio, 30, 61 
Anfiteatro Bolivar mural 

(see Rivera, murals in 

National Preparatory 

Anguiano. Raul, 121, 137, 

143. 252-3 
illustration, 253 
Arenal, Luis, 137, 141-3, 

169. 170, 218, 241 
illustration, 141 
Art education system, 22,25 
Asiinsolo, Maria, 168 
Atl, Dr. (Gerardo Muri- 

llo), 12, 13,19,20,25-6, 

44, 45-6, 52, 242 
illustration, 26 
murals in San Pedro v 

San Pablo, 45-6 
Avila Camacho, General 

Manuel, 188, 189,190, 

Azuela, Dr. Mariano, 10 

Bassols, Narciso, 58, 59, 1 33 
Beggs, Tom, 1 18 
Berdecio, Roberto. 143, 169 
Best, Jorge, 242 
Best-Maugard, Adolfo, 20, 

24, 25 
Bilbao, 213, 215 
Bocanegra, Gertrudis, 186 
Bohemia group, 121 
Bonampak {see Anguiano) 
Borregui, Marco Antonio. 

Botana. Don Natalio, 119 
Bracho, Angel, 136. 137, 

143, 183 
Braque, Georges, 106, 121, 

Brenner, Anita, 31, 97-8 

Cabanas y Crespo, Bishop 
Juan Cruz Ruiz de, 


Cahero, Francisco, 19, 27, 

Calaveras, 17, 19, 112, 138, 

California School of Fine 
Arts mural (see Riv- 
era, murals in San 

Calles, Plutarco Ellas, vii, 
7, 8, 23, 31, 42, 48, 
56-60, 61, 79, 118. 
120, 121, 130, 132, 
133, 134, 136, 178, 

Calvinists, 235 

Cantu, Federico, 256 

Cardenas, Lazaro, vii, 59, 
60, 132, 133-43, 147, 
162, 178, 184, 188, 
192, 215, 216 

Carlotta (Empress of Mex- 
ico), 4 

Carranza, Venustiano, 7 8, 
10, 13, 20, 44, 45, 52, 
56, 206 

Carrasco, Antonio, 242 

Carrasco, Lorenzo, 251 

Carrillo Gil, Dr. Alvar, 43, 
223, 224, 259, 260 

Carrillo Puerto, Felipe, 25, 
53, 65. 79, 105 

Casa del Obrcro Mundial 
( House of the Worker 
of the World), 8, 52 

Castellanos, Julio, 23, 59, 
60, 121, 122, 128, 183, 
illustration, 123 
murals in 

Escuela Gabriela Mis- 
tral (with O'Gor- 
man), 60 
Escuela Melchor 
Ocampo, 60 

Castro Pacheco, Fernando, 
illustration, 252 

Central Airport murals, 
Mexico City (see 

Centre Artistico, 12 

Centro de Arte Realista, 
218, 221 

Cervantes (-Saavedra, 
Miguel de), 158 

Cezanne, Paul, 34 

C.G.O.C. (General Con- 
federation of Work- 
ers and Peasants), 58 

Chamberlain (Neville), 

Chapingo Agricultural 
School (see Rivera, 
murals in Chapingo) 

Chapultepec Castle, 52 

(see also Orozco, mu- 
rals in National His- 
torical Museum) 

Chariot, Jean, 16, 24, 27, 
28, 30, 32, 35, 59, 63, 
illustration, 62 
murals in Secretaria, 
30, 35, 63 

Chavez, Fermln, 242 

Chavez Morado, Jose, 143, 
190, 251-2, 263-4, 
265, 266 
illustration, 264 
mosaic murals tnMinistry 
of Communications 
and Public Works 
(with O'Gorman), 251 
murals in University 
City, 263-4 

Chihuahua, Palacio del 
Gobierno, 221 

Chilian murals, Chile (see 
Alfaro Siqueiros, mu- 
rals in Chile) 

Chouinard Art School 
mural (see Alfaro Si- 
queiros, murals in 
Los Angeles) 

cientijicos, 6 

C.I.O. (Congress of In- 
dustrial Organiza- 
tions), 134 

Clausell, Joaquin. 1 1 

Colegio Nacional exhibi- 
tions (see Orozco, 
easel paintings of) 

Communist Party of Mex- 
ico, 51, 70, 73, 74, 
75,79, 175,239 

Confederation of Latin- 
American Workers, 

Congress of Mexican Art- 
ists, 137 

Congress of Soldier Art- 
ists, 20, 115 

Conservatory of Music 
murals, Mexico City 
(see Tamayo) 

Constitution of 1917, 8, 10, 
57, 206 

Contemporaneos, Los, 1 20- 
22, 125. 128, 254 

Conulos, 19,73, 138 

Cortez (Hernan), 196, 236 

Covarrubias, Miguel, 23, 
murals in 

Museum of Natural 
History, New York, 
Museum of Popular 
Arts, Mexico City, 

Crane, Hart, 117 

Cristeros, 57, 138 

ers Confederation of 
Mexico), 8, 21, 56, 58 

C.T.M. (Confederation of 
Mexican Workers), 
134, 137 

Cuauhtemoc, 212, 219, 
220, 221 

Cuernavaca murals. Pal- 
ace of Cortez (see 

Cuesta, Jorge, 120 

Customs Building murals 
(see Alfaro Siqueiros) 

Dada, 1 1 

Damas Catolicas, 3 1 , 48 

Dartmouth College mu- 
rals (see Orozco) 

Davis, Stuart, 200 

De la Cueva, Amado, 20, 
24, 28, 30, 32, 35, 53, 
63, 115 
murals in Secretaria, 
30, 35, 63 

De la Huerta (Adolfo), 7, 

De la Paz Perez, Gonzalo, 

Delia Francesca, Picro, 46, 

Delphic Studios, 167 

Department of Fine Arts, 
22, 25 

Detroit Institute of Arts 
murals (see Rivera, 
murals in Detroit) 

Diaz, Porfirio, 4-5, 6-7, 9, 
10, 11, 12, 15, 21, 52, 

Diaz de Leon, Francisco, 

Di Chirico, Giorgio, 121, 

Dieguez, General Manuel 
M., 52 

Documental, 170 

Dosamantes, Francisco, 

Duccio, 41 

Duco, 118, 167, 169 (see 
also Pyroxilin paints) 

Dudley Murphy residence 
mural (see Alfaro Si- 
queiros, murals in Los 

Eisenstein, Sergei, 5, 117, 

Electrical Workers Lhiion 
mural (see Alfaro Si- 

Eliot, T. S„ 121 


Enciso, Jorge, 25 
Engels (Friedrich), 177 
Escobar, Luis, 30 
Escobedo. Jesus, 137, 143 
Escuela Mexico murals, 
Chilian, Chile (see Al- 
faro Siqueiros, murals 
in Chile) 
Estrada, Arturo, 242 
Ethyl silicate (see Gutie- 
Expressionism, viii, 33, 42, 
60, 94, 96, 100, 103, 
120, 138, 145, 147. 
151. 157, 175, 197, 
198, 202, 206. 207, 
216, 221 

Fernandez, Justino, 42, 
45 n. 

Fernandez Ledesma, Ga- 
briel, 121, 128, 255 

Franco (Francisco), 135, 
188, 229 

Frente Nacional de Artes 
Plaslicas, vii, 191 

Futurism, 202, 213 

Gabino Ortiz Library mu- 
rals, Jiquilpan (see 
Orozco, murals in Ji- 
Gage, Merrell, 118 
Galeria de Arte Mexicano, 

Galvarino. 212. 215 
Gamboa, Fernando, 136, 
mural in Talleres Grafi- 
cos de la Nacion (with 
Pablo O'Higgins et 
al.), 136, 183 
Gamboa. Ratil, 136 
Gamio, Manuel, 13-14 
Gandhi, Mahatma, 106 
Garcia Bustos, Arturo, 143, 

241. 242 
Garcia Narezo, Jose, 251 
Gauguin, Paul, 34, 37, 72 
Gershwin, George, 1 1 7 
Gerstle, William, 79, 80 
Giotto, 46 

Giraudoux, Jean, 125 
Goddard, Paulette, 182 
Goitia, Francisco, 9, 13, 
14-15, 20, 191 
illustrations, 14, 16 
Gold Shirts, 58 
Golden Gate International 
Exposition murals (see 
Rivera, murals in 
San Francisco) 
Gonzalez Camarcna, 

Jorge, 190, 191, 242- 
51, 253 
illustrations, 243-5, 247, 

murals in 

banks, 245-6 
Cuicuilco Museum, 

243, 246-8 
Guardiola Building, 

Modelo Brewery. 246 
Social Security Ad- 
ministration Build- 
ing, 191 
Gonzalez Garza (Federi- 

co), 44 
Gorostiza, Celestino, 120, 

Government sponsorship 
of art, vii, viii, 23, 27, 

120, 145 

Goya (Francisco), 239 
Greco, El, 103, 151, 158 
Greenwood, Grace, 136 
Greenwood, Marion, 136 
Gros (Baron Antoine 

Jean), 177 
Grosz (George), 223 
Grupo Accion, 2 1 , 56 
Guadalajara group, 1 1 5 
Guerrero, Xavier, 20, 23, 

24, 25, 27, 29, 30, 35, 

Guerrero Galvan, Jesus, 

121, 122-3,256 
illustration, 125 
murals in 

National Electrical 
Commission Build- 
ing, 123 
University of New 
Mexico, 123 
Gutierrez, Jose L., 169. 
190, 199, 253 (see also 
Polytechnical In- 

Hacendados, 5-6, 9. 21,38 
Hale, Salo, 128 
Hambidge. Jay, 104, 203 
Hernandez. Santiago, 17 
Herran.Saturnino. 11,1 3,28 
Hidalgo y Costilla (Mi- 
guel), 3, 79, 152-3, 
157 and n., 205, 206, 
210. 215 
Hitler (Adolf), 156, 173-4, 

180, 182, 186 
Hospicio Cabanas murals, 
Guadalajara (see Oroz- 
co, murals in Guada- 
Hospital de Jesus murals 
(see Orozco) 

Hospital de la Raza mu- 
rals (see both Alfaro 
Siqueiros and Rivera, 
murals in Hospital 
no. 1, etc.) 

Hospital no. 1 murals, So- 
cial Security Adminis- 
tration (Hospital de 
la Raza) (see bothAJfaro 
Siqueiros and Rivera) 

Hotel del Prado mural 
(see Rivera) 

Hotel Reforma murals (see 

House of Tiles mural (see 

Huerta, Victoriano, 7, 12, 
13, 17, 43, 44, 52 

Hughes, Langston, 121 

Independence (1821), 3 

Institute of Cardiology mu- 
rals (see Rivera) 

International Ladies Gar- 
ment Workers Union, 

Iturbe, Francisco Sergio, 
89, 121 

Iturbide, Emperor, 3, 5, 

Jaramillo, Alipio, 216 
Jimenez Rueda, Manuel, 

Jiquilpan murals, Gabino 

Ortiz Library (see 

Juan Diego, 239 
Juarez. Benito, 4, 6, 8, 51, 

78, 204, 206, 215, 216 
Juarez Housing Project 

murals (see Merida) 
Judas figures, 259 

Kahlo, Frida, 80, 124-5, 

239, 256 
Kandinsky, Wassily, 127 
Kanoldt (Alexander), 186 
Klee, Paul, 60, 121. 127. 


Labor Party. 21 
Lautaro, 215 
Laval (Pierre), 172 
Lazo, Augustin, 121, 125, 

126, 128, 255 
Lazo. Rina, 241, 242 
League Against War and 

Fascism, 167 
Leal, Fernando, 23, 27, 

28, 29, 30, 59 


Leal, Fernando (continued) 
murals in Preparatoria, 
27, 30 

L.E.A.R. (League of Rev- 
olutionary Writers 
and Artists), vii, 132, 
134. 136, 137. 169, 
183, 191,252 

Leger (Fernand), 262 

Lenin, V.I.. 83, 103, 105, 

Lerdo de Tejada, Miguel, 

Lerma Waterworks mu- 
rals (see Rivera* 

Lincoln (Abraham), 182 

Lindbergh (Charles A.), 

Lombardo Toledano, Vi- 
cente, 27, 30, 58, 134, 
149, 189 

Lopez Carmona, Arman- 
do, 242 

Lopez Lena, Mario, 251 

Lorenzo, Agustin, 180 

Louis Napoleon, 180 (see 
also Napoleon III) 

Louvre, Musee du, 257 

Lovestonites, 86 

Lunarcharsky (A. V.), 22 

Machete, El, 29-30, 32, 52-3, 

Madero, Francisco, 7, 43, 

Manifesto to the Artists of 

America, 23^f, 52 
Mantegna (Andrea), 227 
Mao (Tse-tung), 239 
Marcus, Stanley, 128 
Marie Sterner Gallery, 98 
Martillo, El, 117 
Martinez de Hoyos, Ri- 

cardo, 254 
illustration, 255 
Marx (Karl). 177, 178 
Masaccio, 46, 246 
Maternity Clinic no. 1 

murals (see Mendez 

or Pablo O'Higgins) 
Matisse, Henri. 121 
Maximilian (Emperor of 

Mexico), 4. 11, 77, 

Mendez, Leopoldo, 23, 53, 

136, 137, 138 40, 183, 

184, 191. 241 
illustration, 139 
murals in 

Maternity Clinic no. 1 
(with Pablo O'Hig- 
gins), 183, 191 

Talleres Graficos de la 
Nacion (with Pablo 

O'Higgins, Fer- 
nando Gamboa, 
Zalce), 136, 183 

Merida, Carlos, 23, 24, 

30, 60, 121. 122, 123, 

126-7, 255, 257, 262 

illustration, 127 

murals in Secrctaria, 30, 


Metropolitan Museum of 
Art, 257 

Meza, Guillermo, 254-5 
illustration, 256 

Millan, Yerna, 58 

Ministry of Communica- 
tions and Public 
Works murals (see 
Chavez Morado or 

Ministry of Education mu- 
rals (see Secretaria) 

Ministry of Health murals 
(see Rivera) 

Modigliani (Amadeo), 126 

Molnar, Fcrenc, 125 

Monroy, Guillermo, 242 

Montenegro, Roberto, 20, 
23, 25, 27, 30, 32, 59 
murals in 

San Pedro y San 

Pablo, 23, 25, 27, 32, 


Secretaria, 30, 35 

Mora, Francisco, 143 
illustration, 142 

Morelos (Jose Maria), 3, 
79, 130, 186, 206, 215 

Morones, Luis, 8, 21, 56, 
58, 79, 134 

Morrow, Dwight W., 57, 

Mugica, General Fran- 
cisco, 184 

Murillo (B. E.), 11, 12,23 

Museo Nacional de Artes 
Plasticas, 20 

Museum of Modern Art, 

New York, 257, 258 

Orozco panels in, 166. 

Rivera panels in, 80, 81 

Mussolini (Benito), 156, 
182, 186,224-5 

Napoleon III, 4, 180, 204 

National Department of 
Anthropology, 14 

National Front of Plastic 
Arts (see Frente Na- 
cional de Artes Plasti- 

National Gallery, Wash- 
ington. D.C., 257 

National Historical Mu- 

seum mural (see Oroz- 

National Institute of Fine 
Arts, 26 

National Museum, 22 

National Palace, 52 (see 
also Rivera, murals 
in National Palace) 

National Preparatory 

School murals (Pre- 
paratoria), 18, 23, 27, 
28, 30, 31, 32, 45-6, 
52, 53, 118, 136 
(see also Alfaro Si- 
queiros, Orozco, and 
Rivera, murals in Na- 
tional Preparatory 

National Printing Office 
murals (see Talleres 
Graficos de la Na- 

National School for 
Teachers murals (see 
Orozco, murals in 
Normal School) 

National School of Music 
mural (see Tamayo) 

Nativism, 13, 15, 20, 24, 
25, 27, 28, 34, 53, 59, 
126, 127, 251, 252-3 

Neo-Realism (see Alfaro 

New Objectivity, 1 1 

New School for Social 
Research murals, New 
York (see Orozco) 

New Workers School mu- 
rals (see Rivera, mu- 
rals in New York) 

Normal School murals (see 

Novo, Salvador, 89 

N.R.A., 86 

Obregon, Alvaro, 7, 8, 10, 
20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 31, 
56, 57, 61, 79 
Ocampo, Isidoro, 143 
O'Gorman, Juan, 60, 79, 
184-7, 190, 256, 265, 
illustration, 85 
mosaic murals in 

Ministry of Commu- 
nications and Pub- 
lic Works (with 
Chavez Morado), 
University City Li- 
brary, 187,263 
murals in 

Central Airport, Mex- 
ico City, 184-6 


O'Gorman (continued) 
murals in 

Escucla Gabriela Mis- 
tral (with Caste- 
llanos), 60 
Gertrudis Bocanegra 
Library, Patzcuaro, 
O'Higgins, Bernardo, 211, 

O'Higgins, Pablo, 60, 61, 
4, 191, 241 
illustration, 140 
murals in 

Escuela Emiliano Za- 
pata, 60 
Maternity Clinic no. 
1 (with Mendez), 
183, 191 
Talleres Graficos de 
la Nacion (with 
Fernando Gamboa, 
Open-air schools, 12-13,52 
Orizaba Industrial School 
murals (see Orozco, 
murals in Orizaba) 
Orozco, Jose Clementc, 
vii, viii, 13, 18.24,52, 

59, 79, 85, 120, 122, 
123, 132, 136, 137, 
167, 191, 217, 267; 
development to 1924, 
24, 25, 42-50; in 
United States, 45, 58, 

60, 100-114; in Eu- 
rope, 1 14; during Ca- 
lles period (1924-34), 
59, 89-114; during 
Cardenas period ( 1 934 
-40), 145-66; from 
1940 to 1949, 192-210 

assistants and associates 
of, 199 

comparison with Riv- 
era, 33, 41, 42, 65. 70, 
89, 111-12 

comparison with Siquei- 
ros, 42, 51, 53. 202. 

easel paintings of, 100, 

illustrations, frontispiece, 
44, 47, 49, 88, 90. 92. 
95,97-9, 101. 102. 
104-5, 107, 109, 110, 
113, 144, 147-50. 152 
-6, 159-60, 163-5, 
193-7, 200-201, 205, 

influence of, 9, 19-20. 
138, 183, 184,241,262 

influences on, 9, 13, 15. 

Mexico in Revolution draw- 
ings, 96-100, 164 
murals in 

Aleman Housing Pro- 
ject, 207 

Dartmouth College, 
85,97, 102, 106-14, 
138, 145, 147, 158, 

Guadalajara, vii, 102, 
103, 105, 110. Ill, 
147-62, 166, 188, 
196,202, 203,204-6 

Hospital de Jesus, 103, 
189, 196-9,206 

House of Tiles (San- 
born's), 46, 59, 89 
-90, 121 

Jiquilpan, 162-6 

Museum of Modern 
Art, New York. 
166, 203 

National Historical 
Museum (Chapul- 
tepec Castle), 203-4 

National Preparatory 
School (Prepara- 
toria), 13, 18, 30- 
31, 43, 45-50, 59, 
146, 183 

New School for So- 
cial Research, New 
York. 103-6, 203 

Normal School (Na- 
tional School for 
Teachers), 109, 191, 
199-203, 206 

Orizaba, 59, 63, 91 

Palacio de Bellas 
Artes, 42, 102, 111. 
138, 145-7, 151.198 

Pomona College, 97, 
100 103. 110, 138, 
146, 147. 163 

Supreme Court, Mex- 
ico Citv, 189, 192-6, 
Syndicate activities of, 

29. 31-2 
Orozco Romero. Carlos. 

20,24,60, 121, 123-4, 

126, 255 
illustration, 126 
Ortiz Rubio (Pascual), 57 

Pach, Walter, 45 
Pacheco, Maximo, 61 
Palace of Cortez murals, 
Cuernavaca (see Ri- 
vera, murals in Cuer- 
Palace of Fine Arts (see Pa- 
lacio de Bellas Artes) 

Palacio de Bellas Artes, 1 1 , 
33, 186 (see also Alfaro 
Siqueiros, Orozco, 
Rivera, and Tamayo, 
murals in Palacio de 
Bellas Artes) 

Palacio del Gobierno 
mural, Guadalajara 
(see Orozco, murals 
in Guadalajara) 

Pan-American Conference, 
Rio de Janeiro, 189 

Pani, Mario, 199 

Paradise. Phil. 1 18 

Parra, Felix, 34 

Patzcuaro, Gertrudis Bo- 
canegra Library mu- 
rals (see O'Gormani 

Pavlova, Anna, 20 

Pego, Francisco, 241 

Picasso, Pablo, 106, 121, 
122, 257, 258, 259, 

Pierre Matisse Gallery, 1 70 

Pina, Jose Salome, 34 

PinoSuarez (Jose Maria), 7 

Pirandello, Luigi, 125 

Plaza Art Center mural, 
Los Angeles (see Al- 
faro Siqueiros, murals 
in Los Angeles) 

P.N.R. (National Revo- 
lutionary Partv). 57, 
58, 134 ' 

Polytechnical Institute (Po- 
litecnico), division of 
Chemical Research for 
Plastics (Taller de 
Ensaye de Materiales 
de Pinturas y Plasti- 
cos), 190, 199, 238 
(see also Alfaro Siquei- 
ros, murals in Poly- 
technical Institute) 

Pomona College murals, 
California (see Oroz- 

Portes Gil (Emilio), 57 

Posada, Jose Guadalupe, 
15-19, 20 
illustrations, 18. 19 
influence on Orozco and 
Rivera, 16-17, 20, 34, 
43. 112,237 
influence on Taller de 
Grafica Popular, 138, 

Preparatoria (see National 
Preparatory School) 

Preparatory School (see 
National Preparatory 
School ) 

P.R.I. (Party of Revolu- 
tionary Institutions), 


P.R.M. (Party of the Mexi- 
can Revolution), 134 
Pulqueria, 18, 27, 34, 186 
Pyroxilin paints, 167, 168, 
169. 170, 213. 215, 
218, 221. 223, 226. 
(see also Gutierrez) 

Quetzalcoatl, 107, 108, 
109, 110. 111. 112, 
1 14, 220, 263 

Ramirez, Everardo, 137 
Ramirez, Ignacio, 236 
Ramos Martinez, Alfredo, 

11. 12,52, 120 
Rebull, Santiago, 34 
Recabarren, 212,215 
Reed. Alma. 167 
Reform, the, 4, 5, 206 
Renau, Jose, 170 
Rendtin. Pedro, 136 
Renoir (P.A.), 34 
Revolt of 1810, 3, 12, 43 
Revolution of 1910, effects 

of, vii. 51 
Revolutionary painters, 
vii, 33, 45, 47 8, 51, 
60, 70, 73. 91. 115, 
117.132. 175,257,267 
Revueltas, Fermin, 23, 27, 
28, 30, 32 
murals in Preparatoria, 
Reyes Perez, Roberto, 53 
Reyes Spindola, Oetavio, 

Rilke, Rainer Maria, 121 
Rivera. Diego, vii, viii, 12, 
132, 136, 152, 167, 
238-9. 266, 267; in 
Europe, 24, 27, 34, 
70-71. 117. 237; de- 
velopment to 1924, 
27, 28, 30, 33-41; in 
United States, 58, 60, 
79-87; during Calles 
period (1924-34), 59, 
61-87; during Car- 
denas period (1934— 
40), 175-82; since 
1940, 235-9 
assistants and associates 
of, 35, 37, 61, 63, 79, 
80, 85, 86, 183-4, 265 
comparison with Orozco, 
33, 42, 175-6, 177, 
comparison with Siquei- 
ros, 33. 51, 53, 55, 86, 
175. 176, 177, 178 

easel paintings of, 182 
illustrations, 36, 38, 39, 
40, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 

69. 71, 72, 74, 76, 78, 
82-3, 84, 85. 87. 176. 
179, 181,237 

influence of, 25, 26, 33, 

117, 183, 184, 262 
influences on, 15, 17, 19, 

34, 37, 41, 120, 237, 

murals in 

Chapingo, 41, 59, 66- 

70, 82 r 162, 183-4 
Cuernavaca, 57, 73, 75, 


Detroit, 81-3. 111-12. 
236. 238 

Hospital no. 1, Social 
Security Adminis- 
tration, 239 

Hotel del Prado, 189, 
236-7, 238 

Hotel Reforma, 180 

82, 189,235 
Institute of Cardio- 
logy, 189, 235, 236, 

Lerma Waterworks. 

Ministry of Education 
(Secretaria), 28,30 
31-2, 35 41, 53 
50, 61-6,72-3,79 

Ministry of Health 
59, 75. 82 

Museum of Modern 
Art exhibition, 80 

National Palace, 33 
77-9, 83, 175, 178- 
180, 189, 235-6 

National Preparatory 
School (Prepara- 
toria), 12, 27, 30, 
34-5, 55, 89 

New York, 83-7, 119, 
167, 178,236 

Palacio de Bellas Ar- 
tes, 33,85, 145, 175-8 

San Francisco, 79-81, 

83, 175, 182 
Teatro de los Insur- 

gentes, 239 
University City, 239, 
Syndicate activities of, 
Robledo, Luis, 242 
Rockefeller Center mural 
(see Rivera, murals in 
New York) 
Rockefeller. John D., Jr., 
177, 178 

Rodriguez, Abelardo, 58, 

132. 133 
Rodriguez Lozano, Ma- 
nuel, 23, 25, 60, 97, 
121. 122, 254, 255 
illustration, 124 
Rogers, Will, 57 
Roh, Franz, 121 
Roosevelt (Franklin D.), 

180, 189 
Rosales, Diego, 241 
Rossell, Guillermo, 251 
Rousseau. Henri, 72, 186 
Ruiz Cortines, Adolfo, 266 

Salazar, Roscndo, 46 n.. 47 

Salon de la Plastica Mexi- 
cana, 191, 253 

Sample, Paul, 118 

Sanborn's mural (House 
of Tiles) (see Orozco, 
mural in House of 

Sanchez Garcia, Ramon, 

San Francisco Stock Ex- 
change mural (see Riv- 
era, murals in San 

San Francisco World's 
Fair murals (see Riv- 
era, murals in San 

San Miguel de Allende 
murals (see Alfaro Si- 

San Pedro y San Pablo 
murals, 23. 25, 27, 28, 
32, 45-6 

Santa Anita (see open-air 

Santa Anna (Antonio Lo- 
pez de), 3, 4 

Secretaria (Secretaria de 
Educacion, Ministry 
of Education), 18, 
28, 30, 31, 32, 35-41, 
53, 59, 61-6, 72-3, 79, 
118, 136, 183-4 

Servetus, Michael, 235 

Sheets, Millard, 118 

Silva, Federico, 241 

Siqueiros, Angelica Arenal 
de, 215 

Siqueiros, D. A. (see Alfaro 

Siqueiros Experimental 
Workshop, 143. 169, 

Smith College murals, 
Northampton, Massa- 
chusetts (see Tamayo) 

Social Security Adminis- 
tration Building mu- 


rals (see Gonzalez Ca- 

Sonora no. 9 murals, Mex- 
ico City (see Alfaro 

Soriano, Juan, 251 
Sosa Portillo, Arnulfo, 138 
Soto y Gama, Diaz, 2 1 
Soviet Union, 70, 71 
Spratling, William, 1 17 
Stackpoie, Ralph, 80 
Stalin, Josef, 70, 103, 105, 

177, 182,239 
Stern, Mrs. Sigmund, 80, 

Strachey, John. 58-9 
Street of the Forty 

Thieves, 57-8 
Supreme Court murals, 

Mexico City (see 

Surrealism, viii, 121, 123, 

124, 125, 126 
Syndicate ol Technical 

Workers, Painters, and 

Sculptors, vii, 28-30, 

31, 32, 52-3, 120, 130 

Tablada, Jose Juan, 43 

Taller de Ensaye de Ma- 
terials de Pinturas y 
Plasticos (see Poly- 
technical Institute) 

Taller de Grafica Popular 
(Workshop of Popular 
Graphic Art), viii. 18 
-19, 134, 135, 137-43, 
169, 183, 191, 241, 
252, 262 

Talleres Graficos de la 
Nacion murals (Na- 
tional Printing Office), 
183, 184 

Tamayo, Rufino, viii, 23, 
60, 120, 121, 122. 124, 
136, 137, 145, 191, 
255, 257, 267; to 1938, 
127-32; since 1938, 
compared with Rivera, 

illustrations, 129, 131, 

258, 259, 261 
influence of Picasso on, 

258-9, 260, 262 
murals in 

Conservatory of Mu- 
sic, 132 
National School of 

Music, 260 
Palacio de Bellas Ar- 

tes, 261-2 
Smith College, 258, 
versus Revolutionary 
painters, 128-30, 254 
Texas, war over, 3 
Tintoretto, 103, 151 
Tlaloc. 238 

Topete, C. Everardo, 148 
Torres Bodet, J., 120. 189, 

Trotsky, Leon, 70,86, 135, 

174, 175, 177, 178 
Tzab, Miguel, 136 

UNESCO Assembly Hall. 
Mexico, 184 

University City Adminis- 
tration Building mu- 
rals (Rectoria) (see 
Alfaro Siqueiros, mu- 
rals in University City) 

University City Library 
murals' (see O'Gor- 

University City Science 
Building mural (see 
Chavez Morado. mu- 
rals in University City) 

LFniversity City Stadium 
murals (see Rivera, 
murals in University 

University of Guadalajara 
murals (see Orozco, 
murals in Guadala- 

Valori plastici, 121 

Van Dongen, Kees, 126 

Vanegas Arroyo publish- 
ing house, 15, 16, 17, 
influence on Orozco 
and Rivera, 16-17, 34 
influence on Taller de 
Grafica Popular, 138 
Vanguardia, La, 19, 44 
Vasconcelos, Jose, 21-3, 
25, 26, 28, 30, 34, 56^ 
Velasco, Jose Maria, 34 
Venturelli, Jose, 46 
Vida Americana, 23-4, 52 
Villa, Pancho, 7, 8, 9, 10. 

13,44, 112 
\ illagra C, Antonio, 143 
Yillaurrutia, Xavier, 120, 

Wall Painters Union, 182 
Wallace, Henry A., 188, 

Warsaw Stadium mural 
(see Alfaro Siqueiros, 
mural in Warsaw) 
Washington (George), 182 
Wenner, Erwin, 216 
Wills, Helen, 80, 182 
Wilson, Henry Lane, 7 
Wolfe, Bertram D., 79, 81 
Workers University, 138 
Workshop of Popular 
Graphic Art (see Taller 
de Grafica Popular) 

Zalce, Alfredo, 136, 13/, 
143, 183,241 
illustration, 240 
mural in Talleres Gra- 
ficos de la Nacion 
(with Fernando Gam- 
boa, Mcndez, and 
Pablo O'Higgins), 136, 

Zapata, Emiliano, 7, 8, 9, 
44, 65, 79, 112. 130. 
186, 215 

Zuno, Jose Guadalupe, 19, 
20, 115, 121 


F-l 5. 77. CU.IO.-Ql 

1 ' ' 


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